Neymar's Copa No Show: Should Clubs Be Dictating When Players Do and Don't Play?

Robbie Blakeley@@rio_robbieSpecial to Bleacher ReportJune 20, 2016

TOPSHOT - Barcelona's Brazilian forward Neymar acknowledges the crowd during celebrations at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on May 23, 2016 following their Spanish 'Copa del Rey' (King's Cup) final football match 2-0 victory over Sevilla FC yesterday also marking the club's 28th Copa del Rey win and the 24th Spanish Liga title. / AFP / JOSEP LAGO        (Photo credit should read JOSEP LAGO/AFP/Getty Images)
JOSEP LAGO/Getty Images

During Dunga's failed Copa America Centenario mission that ultimately cost the then-Brazil manager his job, there was one glaring omission from his 23-man squad: Neymar.

The player missed the tournament, his club, Barcelona, only agreeing to release him for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August, as per Globo Esporte.

Brazil were insipid for much of the tournament, springing into life briefly to hit Haiti for seven. But against both Ecuador and Peru—who, with the greatest will in the world, are hardly heavyweights of South American football—Brazil failed to score.

Willian, Philippe Coutinho, Renato Augusto, Jonas, Gabriel—all were given their chance in attacking positions to cast away the dreaded Neymardependencia the country's sporting press so lavishly detail, and none were up to the task.

There is no player among the Brazil ranks quite like Neymar. Being shorn of his most potent weapon meant Dunga, who took advantage of the Copa America to experiment with other names to share the offensive burden, paid a high price for a decision that was ultimately out of his hands.

None of Brazil's attacking players at the Copa could adequately replace Neymar.
None of Brazil's attacking players at the Copa could adequately replace Neymar.John Raoux/Associated Press

While the Selecao looked lacklustre, it was a massive task to have to replace Neymar in just a few games. Arguably, Dunga's biggest error was claiming his team were not so dependent on their “craque” in the first place.

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That assertion now looks folly of the highest order, and the coach has lost the chance to lead Brazil to their first Olympic gold medal for football in a tournament in which Brazil's chances will be increased enormously by Neymar's presence.

But it should perhaps be simpler than all that. This is an international tournament.

It is therefore an issue for the international manager. Like Luis Enrique at Barcelona, whoever is in charge of Brazil needs his best players available.

Winning a trophy is tough enough in the first place. Attempting to do so when deprived of your best player, your most vital asset, is bordering on mission impossible.

And so it proved for Dunga. That is not to absolve the coach from blame entirely but to recognise his job was made doubly hard by the demands of an entity who had precious little to do with this competition.

Luis Enrique would doubtless feel a similar pinch at Barcelona if deprived of Neymar.
Luis Enrique would doubtless feel a similar pinch at Barcelona if deprived of Neymar.Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

This summer's jaunt to the U.S. always had the look of a lose-lose situation for the former Brazil boss. Win, and little credit would have been available.

The true Copa America was last year, and besides, Brazil have bigger fish to fry. Lose, and the inevitable happened: Dunga was given his marching orders. Former Corinthians boss Tite has been installed in his place.

Meanwhile, his prized Barcelona forward was left out of this continental celebration in the U.S. on the grounds he will represent the Selecao at the Olympics this August. All very well, on the surface, one may well think.

The oldest tournament in the sporting world is a sore spot for Brazil, at least in footballing terms. The five-time world champions have never won the Olympic gold medal in the sport, and they came agonisingly close in London in 2012 before falling 2-1 to Mexico in the final.

Now, they have the chance to put that right on home soil—at the Maracana Stadium, no less. Having let two World Cups escape them with home advantage, perhaps first place in the one competition they have never won may go some way to healing some of the hurt from 1950 and 2014.

Playing two international tournaments in one summer might be suggested as overkill. After all, it is the Catalan club that pays Neymar's wages and will suffer the clearly grave consequences if they were forced to go for a sustained period without one of their main weapons owing to an injury picked up on duty with another team.

But should clubs be giving orders when it comes to players representing their country? In theory, at least, is that not the ultimate honour in football—indeed any sport?

Players at top clubs can make untold riches in the domestic game and the UEFA Champions League. Doubtless, Neymar is a vital piece of the Barcelona brand, particularly in his home country of Brazil.

Seeing the country's current poster boy in the shirt of one of the most successful clubs in the game naturally makes that side a more attractive prospect for neutral football fans in that corner of the world.

Barcelona's stance that Neymar could only play in one international tournament this summer is certainly understandable. But is it right?

Yes, this edition of the Copa America is, or rather was, not a top priority for Brazil. Apart from the Olympics, the side is struggling in the World Cup qualifying group, sitting in sixth position, outside the qualification places for Russia.

The coach, Dunga, was working on putting his best side together for vital upcoming qualifiers against Ecuador and Colombia. In addition, with no competition in 2017, the boss would have had a two-year run to prepare his team for the 2018 FIFA competition.

Dunga was denied his best player and paid the ultimate price.
Dunga was denied his best player and paid the ultimate price.HECTOR RETAMAL/Getty Images

Now, owing to a club's decision, Dunga no longer has that opportunity. Perhaps Brazil do rely on Neymar for inspiration.

But surely, to an extent, that is true of all sides, no matter how great the collective force. Are Argentina, despite their dazzling array of attacking talents, not severely handicapped when Lionel Messi does not take to the field?

Have Manchester United not faltered since the loss of Paul Scholes to retirement? France, who made it all the way to the final at the 2006 World Cup, only made sure of qualifying for the tournament once Zinedine Zidane came out of international retirement.

Every team has a focal point, a fulcrum. For Brazil that is Neymar, and it seems as if the coach has been forced to apologise for that fact.

Perhaps it is naive to expect coaches—especially at international level, where there are aspects of the club game that are so ludicrously lucrative—to be able to pick the players they like when they like. But there is no denying the fact Barcelona's stance in this instance has hindered Brazil and cost their coach his job.

Doubtless there will be those who say Dunga had it coming. His brand of football was dire, dull and undeserving of a nation that has given the world some of the sport's greatest entertainers.

Maybe the Brazilian Football Confederation, and Barcelona for that matter, will feel justified in its decision should the Selecao win Olympic gold. But deep down, whatever the solution is to this most unanswerable of modern-day football dilemmas, it has come too late for Dunga.