Barcelona star Neymar has flashed a darker side this past week.
In Sunday’s loss to Valencia, the Brazil captain slapped Antonio Barragan at full-time. According to Marca, he then threw a water bottle and mocked the defender’s wages in the tunnel.
And now, Spanish outlet La Vanguardia have added some background to Neymar’s outbursts and loss of form by claiming that his hectic lifestyle is to blame. The report, brought to our attention by 101GreatGoals, adds that Barcelona are concerned about their 24-year-old star.
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Neymar’s decline - he hasn’t scored in his past five games - has coincided with Barcelona’s remarkable collapse. Luis Enrique’s side have allowed Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid back into the title race by losing each of their past three league games, while Barca’s treble dreams were crushed last week as Atleti emerged victorious from their Champions League quarter-final bout.
Lionel Messi has taken most of the criticism but it seems that fans and the media are now rounding on Neymar, who will almost certainly be punished for his slap on Barragan.
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According to La Vanguardia, his barren spell is a result of a chaotic lifestyle that includes “trips, parties, inadvisable schedules, and recording adverts.”
The paper adds that “no matter how young you feel, elite athletes need rest.”
Too much responsibility
Former players have been quick to defend Neymar, including compatriot Cafu and former Barcelona teammate Carles Puyol.
Cafu, who won the 2002 World Cup with the Selecao, admitted Brazil cannot pin their tournament hopes on the former Santos player or they risk losing a “really good athlete”.
“You can't give the responsibility of a country to Neymar,” the former AC Milan defender said at the Laureus World Sports Awards.
“Neymar is only one player. He's a Brazilian star, he's our icon, but us Brazilians cannot ask Neymar to carry the whole team. We have to share the responsibilities.
“He's really young to shoulder that responsibility of the country. He just needs to play football. He just needs to go onto the field and dribble, pass the ball, play it.
“You cannot put the responsibility of the country on that boy, otherwise we're going to lose a really good athlete."
Meanwhile, Puyol, whose final season at the Camp Nou was Neymar’s first, said it’s impossible for the winger to play high-class football week in, week out.
Speaking at the same event as Cafu, Puyol is quoted by the Daily Mail as arguing: “You cannot always be at the highest level.
“Neymar is still young and he is very professional. We must accept that he cannot always perform at an impressive level. But he will put in great performances again.
“A bad game for Neymar can still be a good game because he still does spectacular things.”