When it comes to international football, there is no side that comes close to being as universally loved as Brazil. Every generation of football fan has fallen in love with a Brazilian football side at some point in their life. Be it the Golden Era of Pele and later Jairzinho, the Romaria era of the 1990s or the 2000 samba football of Ronaldo, there has always been a generation of Brazilian footballers to love on the world stage.
There is plenty to love
They are the team that plays beautiful football, the kind that the rest of the world dreams of playing. It is pleasing on the eye and exciting to watch, the style of football that makes fans fall in love with football in the first place. Ask any generation of fan and they will name a Brazilian footballer that they have loved to watch at some point. Even within the current iteration, which for some is a long way from the pedigree that came before them, there is plenty there to love.
In Alisson, they have a goalkeeper who is as good with his feet as his hands. In Philippe Coutinho, they have a star midfielder, and in both Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus they have strikers that most teams would pay an arm and a leg to have leading their side. There are even those who can love Casemiro, a defensive midfielder who is the antithesis of what a Brazilian footballer should be, and yet, somehow, makes this team better. But the poster boy is, of course, Neymar, the golden boy of Brazilian football and a superstar in every sense of the word.
Neymar will never be a Brazilian that is universally loved
Quick, tricky and capable of sheer magic at times, Neymar is often a delight to watch. He is the world’s most expensive player, a supreme talent capable of producing the moments that football fans live for time and time again. Yet, unlike his compatriots of yesteryear, he will never be a Brazilian that is universally loved. His antics at this World Cup have made that a certainty.
While his performances on the pitch have been excellent, they have been nothing compared to the acting he has been doing for the officials. Neymar’s histrionics in Russia so far have been nothing short of an embarrassment. Rolling around on the floor, screaming in fake pain and continually overreacting to even the slightest of challenges, Neymar has taken the ugly side of the game to a new level during his short stay in Russia.
The reaction from the wider footballing community has been justifiably negative. Neymar has become the icon for what many believe is wrong with modern football. Highly paid, egocentric and a prima donna, he epitomises everything that the average football fan has come to hate about the current state of the game.
The dark arts
His determination to use the dark arts, rolling around, feigning injury, constant complaining and everything in between (in other words, cheating) have made him an easy target for hate and ridicule. There is no doubt he is a world-class talent but his antics have been an embarrassment to both him and his team. For some, they are the worst the World Cup has seen in its long history.
Should he continue to shine in this tournament, it will always be remembered for his childish antics rather than the performances he put in on the pitch. They make Neymar hard to love and by association, they make this Brazil team hard to love. Every time the PSG star rolls on the floor, holds his legs or covers his eyes in pretend pain it reflects badly on him and his teammates.
For every good thing they do and every bit of exciting, attacking football they play, there will always be those that refer back to Neymar’s antics. Indeed, should they go on to win this tournament it will always be overshadowed by the way Neymar has acted. Brazil’s golden boy has made himself and his team hard to love.