Nothing in football has the healing power quite like the opportunity to score a goal.
It’s something we’ve seen countless times before. And it never stops being funny. The sheer shamelessness of it.
And if there’s one player in the world you’d choose to flawlessly execute the Oscar-worthy transition from injured lamb to galloping gazelle, it’d surely be Neymar.
For good and for bad, the Brazilian is one of this generation’s most eminently watchable footballers. He is a force of nature at his brilliant best, but there the primma-donna tendencies make him a divisive figure.
Who could forget the rolling reaction from the 2018 World Cup that turned him into half-man half-meme?
“Neymar’s behaviour which in the beginning was full of theatrical gestures aimed at gaining an advantage, so common in Brazilian society, has become automatic,” the great former Selecao international Tostao wrote at the time.
“For this reason I am afraid that if he tries to change he will inhibit himself and stop trying to dribble and look for the one-on-one situation. I do not want him to keep falling, as a simulator, or to become a normal, predictable player.”
Nearly half a decade later and Neymar is into his thirties. Still awaiting the Ballon d’Or that looks less likely by the passing year. Still with a taste for amateur dramatics.
The latest example of his theatrics, in PSG’s 2-1 Coupe de France elimination to Marseille, were a masterclass.
Having lost the ball in his own third – in what looked a perfectly fair challenge after running into a blind alley – Neymar fell to the floor and stayed there.
The crumpled heap of his body on the turf belied a message – ‘I, the great Neymar, couldn’t possibly have legitimately tackled. My grave injury is the evidence of this great injustice’.
The problem was the referee wasn’t buying it. The game went on, with Marseille approaching the box and in danger of creating an opening. Attention had moved away from his tour de force performance.
Rather than milk it for all it was worth, Neymar himself moved on. PSG won the ball back and by the time Lionel Messi had been fed the ball, the Brazilian was back up on his feet, recognising the great potential of his old mate sparking a dangerous counter.
PSG boss Christoph Galtier praised the world-record signing for his first-half performance, stating: “In the first period, he found the right spaces, he delivered good balls. After that, it was more complicated for him but also for everyone.”
But this was not Neymar’s night.
Galtier didn’t mince his words when it came to Neymar’s role in Marseille’s second, match-winning, goal. He described the fiercely-struck piledriver from Ruslan Malinovskyi as “stupid” due to the manner in which possession was lost – Neymar had attempted a dummy from a throw-in, but he didn’t pull it off, and seconds later the ball was in the back of the net.
Maybe Neymar would be a better, more-rounded footballer if he chose his moments for flicks and tricks more wisely. Maybe he’d be a more universally popular figure within the sport if he cut out the dramatics.
But we love him just the way he is. His flaws are part of what makes him so compelling. It’s easy to clutch your pearls about play-acting or silly decisions, but it’s ultimately harmless, often entertaining, and sometimes – like in the example above – downright hilarious.
Thank you, Neymar, for making the game that bit more entertaining.