Neymar: Was Pele Right to Criticise the Brazil and Santos Star?
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It is the story that, until the tragic death of a 14-year-old fan at Corinthians' Copa Libertadores game, was dominating Brazilian sports media this week. The King of Brazilian Football, Pelé, had launched a stinging criticism of current star Neymar. But was he right to do so?
Having previously praised the youngster, Pelé's comments that Neymar is "more concerned about appearing in the media than playing for the team" to São Paulo's Estado newspaper have caused uproar. (H/T Independent)
The criticism did not stop there, either, with the three-time World Cup winner stating that Neymar's "major concerns are fashion and his haircut," while adding that Neymar "isn't ready" to carry the burden of leading the national team.
As is to be expected, the comments have provoked a large reaction in Brazil, if not from the player himself.
While other former Santos idols Carlos Alberto Torres and Coutinho implied that Neymar could learn from some of Pelé's comments, when speaking to Lancenet, others close to Neymar have been quick to defend the 21-year-old against the harsh critique.
"Jealousy" was the verdict of Neymar's agent Wagner Ribeiro to Globo Esporte, who also advised that Pelé pay more attention to his own family in a dispute that was rapidly becoming personal. (H/T ESPN)
The superagent, one of the most powerful figures in South American football, also suggested that Pelé would have been "inferior" to his successor if he had played against modern defenders. A bold claim.
Close friend Ganso added to Gazeta Press that it would be "impossible" for Neymar not to always appear in the media and that his "genius" former colleague was actually level-headed and would learn from the incident.
Santos midfielder Arouca agreed in a press conference, stating that Neymar was "mature enough to deal with criticism" but would "take on board" anything Pelé had to say.
Interestingly, the original criticism was published just hours before Neymar became one of just a select few footballers to have appeared on the cover of Time magazine. (Terra) The renowned journal proclaimed the Santos man to be the "next Pelé," as he has so often been described.
In response to the magazine's publication, Neymar simply described it as "an honour to be compared to the incomparable Pelé" via his personal Instagram account. A commendably mature response.
The question remains, though, as to whether Pelé was right. Neymar hasn't always performed to his best outside of South America, but is it fair to deliver such stinging criticism of a player still improving with each passing year?
It has not been a good few weeks for the youngster, with a poor showing against England at Wembley soon followed by a red card in state championship action for a kick out at Ponte Preta defender Artur. He has, though, at times been untouchable in recent games despite a clear lack of full fitness.
Neymar is too good for many state championship opponents and is clearly aware of the fact. He has been quick to showboat, has been a little casual and, of course, was dismissed against one of the better opponents he has faced.
That incident and his attempts to claim innocence were a reminder of some of the growing up he still has to do.
He is, though, clearly the most influential player currently operating in Brazil and the most naturally talented player in the national team. His poor performances can be overstated, but he will doubtless be aware that he still has much to prove internationally.
Pelé was right in some respects. Neymar will improve from a move to Europe, whenever that may occur, and hasn't always been great against European opposition for Brazil. But, the criticism remains hard to understand in some respects.
Neymar is frequently in the media, that is undeniable, but it is also hard for him to avoid doing so as his friend Ganso suggests. In order for him to remain in Brazil and represent Santos, Neymar's contract is largely funded by sponsors. They, of course, expect representation for their money.
According to a critical article in Forbes magazine last year, Neymar earns $4 million per annum from sponsors besides his standard salary. Others place that figure much higher.
The fact remains, though, that commercial appearances are a major part of the life of a modern star and Pelé, himself, never shied away from attention in a much less media-centric era.
Maybe Neymar should think about cutting back on his media appearances, which will not be easy as the World Cup approaches. That is fair comment. However, the petty citing of his changing hairstyles devalues what may otherwise have been sound advice. It is of no relevance.
Was Pelé right to make his criticisms public?
Despite the fact Pelé is a regular attendee at major club events, the two have been said not to enjoy a close relationship. Comments like those this week are unlikely to improve matters and, indeed, there are many who accuse the former star of attention seeking on a semi-regular basis.
Whatever the truth behind the comments, which can no doubt be at least partially justified, it is the public nature of the criticism that seems unnecessary. The pressure on Neymar to succeed, from all angles, is extreme and Pelé, given his position, should seek to help mentor the youngster.
It appears, though, that the pair will not take on that kind of relationship. Neymar, though, is generally well advised by his father and coach Muricy Ramalho, so Pelé may be better advised to avoid comment.
Two of those who know Neymar best, Arouca and Ganso, have said that he will learn from the comments of the man who defines Santos as a club. That is encouraging to hear.
The incident and the reaction it has provoked, though, leave a sour taste and do little to enhance Pelé's public image.
It is now time for all concerned to simply move on and, perhaps, consider their words more carefully in the future. Brazilian football could do without such an unnecessary distraction.
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