A glance at Brazil’s recent World Cup qualification matches as well as their performance at the Copa America and an image of a much disciplined, mature and restrained Neymar can’t escape notice.
Arguably one of the most talented players of current times, Neymar’s career, though laced with individual brilliance, has majorly left a dark spot after another, and at times he’s taken the fair share of the blame for his teams’ failures.
The player, blamed for his teams’ failure to win as expected, Brazil included, also had to deal with a number of injuries that kept him off the pitch, but it is the controversies that have left a lot of questions on whether he is the right brand for what football should be.
At one point, he had to fight allegations of sexual assault, which were eventually proven to be false after a Brazilian woman he’d been with accused him.
His controversies cut across violent conduct to fans, rubbishing match officials in post-match comments that have seen him suspended as well as getting into needless arguments with his teammates, and he’s also lost some sponsorships with such controversies.
The fact that he’s never won a major honour with Brazil remains a stain Neymar wishes to wipe off his profile.
He did win the 2016 Olympic Games Gold, but when Brazil won the 2019 Copa America title, he wasn’t in the team.
Earlier, he sat on the sidelines in the 2014 World Cup as his nation was thrashed 7-1 by Germany at the semi-final stage, while he struggled in 2018 as Brazil fell 2-1 to Belgium in the semis.
The 2020 Copa America feels like he can finally get his hands on a major silverware with Brazil, as well as break the all-time top goal-scoring record currently held by the legendary Pele.
It won’t be a walk in the park, though, as a strong Argentina also hopes to end a long drought without winning anything.
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An experienced Neymar, without the on and off-field theatrics, is the fulcrum to ensure the Brazilian load safely gets home.
At Copa America so far, he has been key in attack, and his maturity is showing. He is well focused now, perhaps with lessons from the past and knowledge that he isn’t getting younger.
He has attracted praise from Brazilian legends and makes part of the big reason Brazil are considered favourites for this competition.