Much of the aftermath of the Neymar-Cavani set piece saga has become apocryphal: the dressing room bust-up, the Brazilian’s letter to Paris Saint-Germain’s president, his unfollowing of Cavani on Instagram (that one is, admittedly, public and easy to prove), and the overwrought dissection of the South American squabble.
After all, a money- and egomania-infused pantomime provoked the high drama. Here, it’s important to talk about the relevant scenes.
First: a free-kick for PSG. Edison Cavani, with his towering persona, walks over. He is marking out his territory. Daniel Alves picks up the ball. Cavani shrugs – he wants to take it, but Alves shields it. Neymar steps in, delivers a curvy free-kick and Olympique Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes boxes the ball away.
Act 2: the referee correctly awards PSG a penalty. Time for a role reversal. Cavani has the ball, Neymar strolls over – it’s his! But the lanky Uruguyuan ignores Neymar and puts the ball on the spot. Neymar demands the ball, but Cavani angrily dismisses him. The striker steps up, but doesn’t convert the spot-kick. The crowd at the Parc des Princes gasps, and drama has officially begun.
The authenticity of the following acts is nebulous. The mass soccer media, including French daily L’Equipe, reported engrossing twists and turns, but their veracity is in doubt. Does Neymar no longer want Cavani in Paris? Has PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi lost control over his multi-million dollar assets?
And so, PSG’s honeymoon period this season has come to an end.
Giants of the game quarrel and when they do it isn’t pretty, but this was an argument in plain sight with the fans and media in tow to render a guilty verdict. It was soccer stripped of human understanding, reduced to a game of hounds, keen on protecting their little fiefdom, at the ready to hunt down any intruder. A gentleman’s agreement? There was neither elegance nor dignity in what Neymar and Cavani proffered.
And so, PSG’s honeymoon period this season has come to an end. September has turned confected and fiendish, with Neymar imposingly central to a narrative the Qatari hierarchy didn’t envisage about their new poster boy. Did Neymar abuse his powers? The Brazilian doesn’t seem disconcerted. He was seen partying in London’s East End with supermodel Barbara Palvin after the match.
Perhaps the undercurrent of Neymar’s immature and fatuous behavior is off-putting. At PSG he represents revenue. He is a money tree and a mission statement. He is also a gloriously gifted soccer player, who is seen as a savant and messiah to resuscitate a club from which the shiny veneer was beginning to fade. Neymar enjoys a regal prerogative at Paris Saint-Germain: He can do as he pleases, but going from Neymarmania to Neymarmaniac is a small step. The Brazilian’s distaste of Cavani was for all to see. It spilled over, and the Uruguayan reciprocated the dislike.
It was not the first time Neymar’s egocentrism and egoism surfaced, a poison cracking and brimming over the pores of his manicured body and image, evincing a far less affable personality and character, with a mini Jekyll-and-Hyde residing in the Brazilian. That dual pesky and petty propensity of a faux diva has always been there – ephemeral and marginal, but always materializing in one or the other form at various stages in his career.
Back in 2010 at Santos in Brazil Neymar was involved in a touchline brawl with his own coach Dorival Junior. The bust-up was ugly, but Junior was sacked a few hours after the game. Neymar was the boss. At PSG he is the boss as well; it’s the ultimate expression of player power in 2017.
There have been other acts of insolence: with Coentrao and Pepe in the 2014 Copa Del Rey final, with Carlos Bacca at the 2015 Copa America and with Celtic Glasgow’s Anthony Ralston recently in the Champions League. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it demonstrates that Neymar is no saint. He is neither Gilberto Silva nor Kaka, disciples of Jesus, who constantly professed their love for mankind and the Gods. They were apostles of propriety, with benign and amiable personalities, who, screening the back four or bursting forward, could lit up the soccer field.
Neymar may be petulant, but he is not a maverick. He is no Romario. O Baixinho was the quintessential dissenter, who lived an inimitable and capricious career of women, samba, and delightful soccer exploits. He fell out with almost everyone: Mario Zagallo, Zico, Carlos Alberto Parreira, Edmundo and Johan Cruyff. He collected ample red cards. Romario abused his privileges and his status in subtle and not so subtle power plays. Often it was about taking center stage: despite the off-the-field drama, he’d always respond with goals and decisive actions on the pitch.
Against Cavani, Neymar also took center stage. He was the gravitational point in a telegenic battleground, the set piece a catalyst for a power matrix in which Neymar was always going to topple his strike partner. The lack of sporting intrigue was glaring: PSG was winning, and Lyon was a meek opponent. Little was in play. Neymar’s effrontery was nonsensical and it has left PSG in disarray with a crucial Champions League fixture against serial German champions Bayern Munich coming up next week. Will there be a third act in this conflicted play?