A lot of nonsense has been said about Neymar’s effect on PSG this year, but I learnt one thing as I sipped my pint on Tuesday night, as I watched the Champions League match between PSG and Real Madrid in a crowded London bar.
Many punters out there want to be ahead of the curve, say something different and set themselves apart. But sometimes, some of them come up with complete and utter garbage. I don’t agree with claims that Neymar is a bad apple, that he’s petulant and bad for the harmony of the PSG squad, but at least they are plausible things to argue. But what some idiots actually said was that PSG would be better off without him in their second leg match against Real Madrid.
Now I’m not saying that PSG would have won had Neymar been playing, but it was clear that he was sorely missed. In the first leg in the Bernabeu, PSG looked like the most likely team to win the game before Real Madrid scored against the run of play. On Tuesday, Real Madrid dominated PSG for pretty much the whole match. Not only did they have more possession, but they had the ball in more dangerous areas, created more chances and had more shots. PSG never really looked like they were going to win, like they did in the first leg.
Tactically Real Madrid so some credit must go to them. And Veratti’s petulance, a Dani Alves mistake and a terrible clearance from Rabiot didn’t help PSG’s cause, but the fact that Neymar wasn’t playing made a huge difference. He is truly world class. Not only does his pace offer his team an outlet when they are under the cosh, but his trickery, skill, and ability to find a pass, or make a dribble, when surrounded by several opponents, makes him such a threat. That sort of ability changes the balance of a game. To me, the positive influence that Neymar has on this PSG team and the seleção cannot be overstated. He is a super star – let him be a little bit selfish and self-centered. I think he’s a decent guy.
As for the seleção, they rely on Neymar just as much as PSG do, if not more. In the current seleção team, managed by Tite, everybody plays well and does their job, but the man who makes things tick, and who creates chances, drives the team forward, is Neymar. After undergoing surgery on his broken metatarsal on Saturday, Neymar is expected to be out of action for up to three months. That means he should be back just before the World Cup, but the risk, of course, is that he will go into that tournament without being match fit, just like David Beckham did for England in 2002. Brazil need Neymar in 2018 more than England needed Beckham in 2002.
I deviate slightly, but this point is quite important. Beckham got injured in April that year, so he had less time to recover than Neymar does now. But Neymar broke his fifth metatarsal, which takes longer to heal than it would if he had broken the second metatarsal, like Beckham. This, from the Guardian in 2002, doesn’t make for very comfortable reading:
According to orthopaedic surgeons, the bone David Beckham has broken in his foot – the second metatarsal – will take between four to six weeks to heal, with another two to four weeks needed for rehabilitation. The news means the England captain is extremely doubtful for the World Cup. However, doctors said today that the injury could have been far worse. There are five metatarsal bones in each foot and had Beckham broken the fifth or outer metatarsal, he would be sidelined for much longer.
Professor Angus Wallace, professor of orthopaedic and accident surgery at the University of Nottingham said: “Metatarsal bone fractures are common, they usually heal within six weeks.However if it [had been] a fracture of the fifth or outer metatarsal, delayed healing can be a problem,” added Prof Wallace, who is also chairman of the National Sports Medicine Institute.
That casts some doubt on the official prognosis that Neymar will be fit for the World Cup. I personally prefer to believe the official prognosis is true and that Neymar will be back in time. However, even if Neymar does fully recover in time for the competition, losing him for the next three months is a massive blow for Brazil and their preparations. Tite rarely rotates his side and even since Brazil qualified for the tournament he has only made very small alterations to his squad and starting line up: Tite wants to drill his team to play a certain way, get used to each other and the system. For the next three months, at the most important time during Brazil’s preparations, that plan goes out the window.
Of course, Brazil have very good players that can take Neymar’s place like Willian or Douglas Costa. But while they are excellent players themselves, they are no Neymar, just like Angel Di Maria is a great player, but no Neymar. Tite will now need to prepare for the competition without having his most potent weapon on the field.
The friendly squad for the match against upcoming friendlies against Russia and Germany will be announced on March 12th. The announcement was initially scheduled for last week, but delayed in the hope that it would become clear whether their players carrying injuries would be fit and could be called up. Fernandinho and Roberto Firmino are doubts, but sadly, it has become clear that Neymar won’t be fit for these matches.
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