In Defense of Neymar Jr

Neymar Jr. will miss what remains of the 2015 Copa América in Chile after receiving a 4-match suspension following the post-game incidents in Brazil’s match against Colombia last week. In what amounted to a toddler’s temper tantrum, the Brazilian playmaker not only kicked a ball at celebrating Colombian defender Pablo Armero’s back, he also took the referee by the neck and called him hijo de puta four times. The incidents unleashed chaos on the pitch and resulted in a pair of red cards.

Admittedly, the crappy, childish attitude deserved a red card – but a four-game suspension is pretty over the top.

Neymar’s behavior was born out of frustration. The Colombian defenders had spent the match kicking him constantly, he almost never had spaces, and when he did, he had up to four Colombians on him who played a todo dar. Many of the tackles could have been fouls.

True, Neymar has a rep for dramatic exaggeration. He acts the same when someone slightly grazes his back, as when he was kicked by Colombian player Zuñiga in the 2014 World Cup – a kick that injured him for the rest of the tournament. And yes, he can be petulant and childish in his attitude.

But I’m going to play devil’s advocate and say Neymar is a special player who has to be given special care on the field. There are few playmakers with Neymar’s qualities in modern fútbol. Seeing him on the pitch is an absolute spectacle; he scores, he’s totally joga bonito, and he supports his teammates. Alongside Argentine star Messi, Neymar is an exception in the world of soccer – a man who creates plays instead of destroys them. And when you’re a treasure you should be treated that way.

Many will question Neymar’s character when he answers with aggression. They will say he doesn’t know how to lose. Or that Messi has never responded that way (although he has); even Pelé and Maradona have exploded in frustration after being kicked repeatedly, as any soccer crack would.

Neymar’s four game suspension is an absolute exaggeration and an example of how talented players like Neymar are protected less and less in modern football.

It’s no coincidence that coaches now prefer to use players like Zuñiga and Armero, defenders who are meant to destroy plays instead of create them.

Referees should be protecting players like Neymar, who embody pure fútbol, if just for the sake of the show.