Neymar Must Curb His Play-Acting at Barcelona

Ryan BaileyFeatured ColumnistJuly 1, 2013

BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL - JUNE 26:  Neymar of Brazil reacts during the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 Semi Final match between Brazil and Uruguay at Governador Magalhaes Pinto Estadio Mineirao on June 26, 2013 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Spain's Fernando Torres may have sheepishly collected the 2013 Confederations Cup Golden Boot—adding to the one he picked up at Euro 2012—but the star of the show was undoubtedly Neymar.

With his multimillion dollar transfer to Barcelona completed three weeks before the tournament, the world watched the 21-year-old megastar with baited breath.

Would he dominate with his dazzling skill, like he often has in a Santos shirt? Or would he disappear into the background, like he has done for the Seleção on a number of occasions?

It turned out to be the former. Each of his four goals were fantastic, and some of his assists were even better. In Sunday evening's final, he scored either side of Fred, cementing his place as the cornerstone of a revitalized, world-conquering Brazil team. There was little surprise when he was named the tournament's Golden Ball winner (best player) after the match.

Based on this World Cup warm-up tournament, Barcelona fans will surely be salivating at the prospect of seeing Neymar playing in the same side as their incumbent World Player of the Year, Lionel Messi.

There is one aspect of his game, however, that must be toned down in Spain: his simulation.

The Confederations Cup proved to be the perfect stage for Neymar's footballing talent, but it has also cast a spotlight on his dubious acting talent. The precocious Brazilian seemed to spend half his time laying on the turf grimacing in agony, clutching an arbitrary part of his body after a feather-light touch from an opponent.

Prior to the semifinal with Uruguay, Celeste captain Diego Lugano issued a public warning about Neymar's play acting. "He is very apt at pretending to be fouled and is very lightweight, so he can drop to the ground and fool the referees and the rivals," he said in an article by the BBC's Ben Smith.

Feeling incredulous at such an accusation, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) shot back with an angry statement, telling Reuters: "What (Diego) Lugano is trying to do when he talks about Neymar is pressure the referee into not punishing the tough tackles that he will doubtlessly make on the Brazilian player." 

The CBF were clearly unable to see the irony of criticising Lugano for unfairly influencing the referee, but it might have become apparent during a game in which Neymar spent an embarrassing amount of time overreacting to soft challenges.

When Walter Gargano apparently defied physics with his manhandling of the spiky-haired sensation, the Internet's finest meme generators were called into action.

By comparison, Uruguay's Luis Suarez, a man who freely admits to diving, looked irreproachable.

As The Guardian's Paul Wilson noted over the weekend, Neymar will simply not get away with this level of simulation in Spain.

La Liga is much faster and more physical than the Brazilian Campeonato, and it has a completely different officiating culture from South America or the international stage. Spain's top two sides may already have some players who are partial to simulation, but Neymar still needs to tone his act down.

Essentially, if he plays like he did against Uruguay for Barca, he will end up with less free-kicks, more yellow cards and a very questionable reputation.

Some argue that the striker's lithe frame is the reason why he is unfairly persecuted as a diver. They say he is wrestled out of challenges when he is out-muscled, leading to him being thrown around like a rag doll.

Neymar clocks in at just 142 pounds, and he has a tendency to lose weight. Barcelona's club doctor has reportedly already told him he must add some mass in order to compete in La Liga.

With some extra bulk, the skinny star would not be as easy to brush off and may start to rely on his strength in possession rather than exaggerated weakness when being dispossessed.

There are many reasons why Neymar may struggle in Europe—see a previous article of mine on the subject here—and a lack of physicality is certainly a key issue. Only by addressing his strength and toning down the theatrical aspect of his game can the Confederations Cup hero stand a chance of making it at the Nou Camp.