When Barcelona's signing of Neymar from Santos was officially announced following one of the most protracted transfer sagas of recent times, I was upset to say the least.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always thought and still do think that Neymar is easily one of the top three most prodigious talents in his age group. But watching him in the past was always nevertheless very frustrating due to his diving and playacting.
The Confederations Cup was a great platform for Barcelona fans to gauge the almighty talents of their newest signing and while Neymar definitely silenced any critics who claimed he couldn’t perform like he did with Santos with the Selecao, he also confirmed the reputation everyone had come to associate with him: that of a serial diver.
Before the game against Uruguay in the semi-final, Diego Lugano issued a warning directed at the referee about Neymar’s diving, and while I thought it might have just been a tactic to eventually get away with some strong challenges on the prodigy, it seemed more like a prophecy come true during the semi-finals.
Neymar subsequently produced some of the most outrageous dives I have ever seen and made Luiz Suarez, another notable serial diver who was sharing the pitch with him that day, look like a saint. I was very angry that Barcelona had decided to buy such a player who was sure to enhance Barcelona’s unfair and over dramatised tag as divers.
Fast forward 7 games into the league campaign and I have nothing but praise for the young Brazilian who hasn’t just managed a seamless transition into the Barcelona style of play, but has also massively curbed the needless diving and playacting.
Ironically, I’m praising Neymar for restricting the diving aspect of his game just days after he was playacting against Celtic in an incident that saw Bhoys captain Scott Brown receive a deserved red card but my point still stands. So far this season, Neymar has been on the receiving end of more fouls in the league than anyone else.
Defenders simply have not been able to cope with his speed and trickery and have thus resorted to fouling the mercurial forward. It has been an impressive and welcome change to see how Neymar now carries himself when he is fouled.
He is a small and skinny player who simply does not command the kind of centre of gravity that allows Messi to ride challenges and thus is very likely to go down with a decent amount of contact. Instead of rolling on the ground or petitioning the referee for cards, however, Neymar now carries himself up and continues on with the game.
Sure, playacting is a habit that cannot be eradicated entirely from the player’s game and Neymar may still occasionally resort to tricks from his dark diving past, but at least now, with the way he is playing, Neymar is sure to be remembered for his greatness on the pitch rather than on the ground.
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