domingo, 16 de outubro de 2016

Diego Forlan: Neymar’s rough treatment is a mark of respect — it happens to all strikers including me

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Diego Forlan writes a weekly column for The National, appearing each Friday. The former Manchester United, Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid striker has been the top scorer in Europe twice and won the Golden Boot at the 2010 World Cup. Forlan’s column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.
Neymar had a tough time playing in Brazil’s 5-0 win against Bolivia last week, picking up a yellow card for dissent which meant he missed Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against Venezuela.

    Bolivian defender Yasmani Duk also elbowed him and Neymar left the field with his face covered in blood. Duk said he was just trying to block him, but he was also critical of Neymar’s behaviour and accused him of not respecting opponents.
    It is not the first time.
    I understand why Athletic Bilbao players did not like him showboating when Barcelona were leading 3-0 in the Copa del Rey final. Neymar was criticised by his manager Luis Enrique because he did not need to do it. His team had won, everyone knew that. Humiliation is not good for anyone.

      Yet I would defend Neymar’s right to do tricks. It is the style in which he plays football, whether his team are winning or losing, the way he has become one of the best players in the world. I think that talent — and the entertainment it brings — should be allowed to shine above any aggression.

      Kids love Neymar’s skills and as long as he stays within the rules, what is the problem?
      Neymar is much more than tricks and flicks, though. Many players are good at tricks without having the all-round game to complement them. Neymar can stand out in the biggest games. He fits in and enhances one of the world’s best teams.

        He knows the team are more important than the individual and works for them. He is not sulky and self-centred, but a player who continues to improve. He crosses, he assists.
        He is not a forward like Ruud van Nistelrooy, someone who you get the ball to in front of goal knowing that he will fight for it and score with any part of his body, someone you can deliver a high ball to. But Neymar is intelligent, he is fast and he can get past a player — that is the hardest thing to do.

          He has also become stronger and Barca have done a good job on him. He is 10 kilograms heavier than when he arrived from Santos. Such changes to a body have to be handled delicately, but Barca have some of the best backroom staff in the world and they have done it well.
          It is a mark of respect to the former Santos striker that so many defenders want to stop him and get frustrated by him. Pele, the most famous Santos player of all, had the same effect on players.

            My father played against Pele and said he would get kicked a lot more than Neymar. Everyone wanted to stop Pele, the genius. Players got away with so much more than and my father regales me with stories of horror tackles, fights between players on the pitch and off them all across South America.
            Yet Pele was strong, too. He had to defend himself. He had to kick back if needed. That was a part of his game which is not always mentioned.

              Now, if you tackle from behind you will be sent off, but defenders will always try to unnerve any attacker.
              I have had it throughout my career, the game within a game. I would not repeat some of the things that have been said to me, but sometimes it is best just to smile and laugh, or do the thing that will annoy them most: score. But when it first happens really badly it is not a pleasant experience.

                At the age of 21, I played for Independiente in the Copa Mercosur away to Colo-Colo, the most successful Chilean club, in Santiago. The atmosphere was vicious towards us. The big Chilean defender marking me abused me from the first minute calling me an Argentine this and an Argentine that. Relations are not the best between Chile and Argentina, but maybe he did not realise that I was from Uruguay. It would have been like me criticising him for being a Mexican.

                  I kept explaining to him that I was from Uruguay, but maybe he just wanted to believe that I was Argentine to motivate himself. By the second half, I was really annoyed by his words and struck him.
                  There was blood, he went down. The referee did not see it, but we were both sent off. We lost 2-1. I said nothing more. What happened on the pitch stayed on there.
                  We played back in Buenos Aires against Colo-Colo. Our group was tight and we needed to win in our Avellaneda stadium, where the noise is so loud it burns the ears of opponents.

                    I was up against the same defender. Nothing was said this time. I scored twice and we won 2-0. I celebrated with my shirt off. We qualified from our group and knocked Colo-Colo out. I moved to Manchester United a few months later.

                    Because I was young and because television was not wall-to-wall then and social media did not exist where people want to know everything about everything, I’m sure the defender knew very little about me. That could be to my advantage, but knowledge levels about opponents are so much higher now.

                      You are briefed on the players you will be against, what they are like and what they do.
                      When I played against Neymar for Uruguay in the Confederations Cup semi-final in 2013, we knew everything about him. We played well in Brazil, it was 1-1 until the 86th minute. Space was tight and the defending excellent. We did not get many chances and nor did Neymar, until Paulinho got the winner, set up by Neymar.

                        I was cursing them at that moment. But deep down, I respected them, too.

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