Is there a top modern footballer as revered and as hated as Neymar?
He is also a diva and a serial diver in the eyes of some.
Everyone certainly agrees that, even after an injury-plagued season at Paris Saint-Germain, he remains a major threat to Manchester City’s hopes of winning their first Champions League.
The two teams met Wednesday in the first round of the semi-final in Paris. Sport spoke to leading football journalists Guillem Balague and Julian Lawrence to find out how one of football’s most popular stars is perceived.
Neymar has done so many magical things.
Ankle and hip injuries have limited Neymar’s participation in this PSG campaign. The 29-year-old made 24 appearances in all competitions.
With 14 goals and 9 assists, he still managed to make an important contribution.
At City he is showing signs of good form and fitness at the right time to help his club in the battle for trophies.
His two best games of the season came this month in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, in which PSG beat last season’s eventual winners, Bayern Munich.
The Brazilian was excellent in both legs. He provided two assists in the 3-2 win in Germany and could have scored twice in Paris, were it not for the posts and an excellent Bayern goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer.
In addition, his work ethic and the way he refuted his reputation as someone of high caliber working in an effective team.
He has done so many magical things, Spanish writer Guillem Balague said on the Euroleague podcast.
We are in an era where players are expected to be robots. But that’s not the case with Neymar.
They didn’t know where he was going or what he was going to do. We don’t get that kind of excitement very often.
Neymar provided two assists in the first leg of the quarter-finals and also performed well in the second leg as PSG beat Bayern Munich.
Change in perception of MTP
Like their rivals on Wednesday, PSG are still in search of their first Champions League title, despite having spent a lot of money on players since being bought by Middle Eastern investor Qatar Sport Investments in 2011.
Their monetary rise to French dominance and Champions League consistency has not been well received by some.
But the road to the final last year, coupled with attractive, attacking football and the appointment of former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino this season, has perhaps dispelled some of the harshest criticism of the club and its best player.
PSG and those associated with the club have certainly benefited from the events surrounding the European Super League over the past 11 days.
The refusal of French clubs to take part in the independent league has left many fans with a bad image – a stark contrast to the 12 European rivals who have united to develop the league.
Since the Qatari takeover, it seems like all the money comes from the Qatari’s and we know that the traditional big clubs like Bayern, Juventus and Real face competition from PSG and Man City, said French football journalist Julien Laurens.
There has always been a debate about old money and new money.
But I think if you look at how Kylian Mbappé and Neymar play, especially Neymar in the two games against Bayern, you see the team spirit, the fighting spirit they have.
Pochettino is also a very nice coach. That helped too.
They are trying to consolidate their status and make it to the big clubs. Maybe PSG will like it a bit more and people will enjoy watching it. You’re so funny.
Within the club, they feel that their perception outside of Paris and France is changing.
Despite scoring 84 goals in 109 games since joining PSG, Neymar continues to receive criticism for some of his actions on the pitch.
There will always be Neymar haters, especially for a player who is seen as a lightning rod for what many consider to be on-field deficiencies in play.
Balag believes that this hostility towards the South American stems from a convinced moral superiority of football fans on that continent.
You can hear voices: No, we don’t like PSG and especially not Neymar, Balague added. This is despite the fact that he shone in the first 45 minutes against Bayern and, in my opinion, put in his best individual performance of the season.
It was absolutely brilliant, and yet I tweeted it and got even more responses: Yeah, but he took the leap, he did.
I think a lot of that comes from the Anglo-Saxon world. This is the bigotry of Northern Europe.
That feeling of anger is stronger than the magic that a man like Neymar creates on the pitch. Yes, you can get frustrated with what some people do on the pitch, but no one is perfect and Neymar isn’t either.
But when he gets the ball, he does what only Lionel Messi can do. Let him be what he wants to be, he’s a Brazilian. Part of what he does is come on stage and give us a show. It does.
And what is one of the most ignorant fouls Neymar is so regularly reprimanded for: diving?
I remember when I first moved to London, people said that European players always dive, but English players don’t, Lawrence added. That’s not true – English players dive too, and we’ve seen plenty of them.
In some countries this is more acceptable. Some people will say: I don’t care if he rolls on the field, because the performance and what they do on the field is out of proportion.
I don’t think you can change them, and they shouldn’t feel forced to change.