Is Neymar’s Hype Getting Too Big?

Brazil and Santos winger Neymar has been at the center of transfer speculation for the last few years. Some have said that his eventual move to Barcelona is one of football’s worst kept secrets and I’m inclined to agree with that statement. We all know that although only 21 years old, Neymar’s international fame has long outgrown the Campeonato Brasileiro and Santos.

Brazil and Santos winger Neymar is one of the world's brightest talents.

Brazil and Santos winger Neymar is one of the world’s brightest talents.

Now that David Beckham, the last footballer who it could be argued was more famous for his underwear ads and marrying Posh Spice than his talent on the pitch, has retired, the door has been opened for Neymar to become the international superstar that the hype surrounding his move to Europe is leading him towards.

Don’t mistake this as a knock against Neymar’s playing ability. It is clear as day that with a continued push in the right direction, we’ll be talking about him for the next few decades for his ability on the ball, the flashy dribbles and the even fancier finishes that he has become known for in his surprisingly short senior career. Remember that it was only four years ago that he burst onto the scene. Even Santos knew he’d be something special when they paid 1 million reals to keep him at the club after he passed a trial with Real Madrid when he was 14.

The prospect of Neymar, who Pele described as the best player in the world, linking up with Lionel Messi is something that would create a media maelstrom around the world. How many football fans would pass up the opportunity to see those two on the same pitch playing together?

And this is when you have to ask yourself if Neymar is ready for the lofty expectations that will follow his move to whatever club gets his signature in the near future.

He is an easy player to market, as many Brazilian football stars are. They play with flair and style while making it seem like they are having the time of their life while doing it. Take a trip over to YouTube and look up Neymar’s celebrations after goals. He’s all you would expect of a 21-year-old professional footballer, not yet having the cynical attitude that comes as we grow older, until he nutmegs you on the way to another goal and it looks like he’s more seasoned than a player ten years older.

However, the burden of carrying the superstar tag has destroyed its fair share of rare talents. No one thinks Neymar is Messi’s heir apparent. In terms of age, they are contemporaries, only four years apart. With sports science these days, Neymar will be well into his 30s by the time Messi hangs them up. Instead, it is expected that Neymar will be on Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s level in terms of international appeal. Those players that even people who don’t watch football know about.

Mario Balotelli is a good example of what happens when a player gets too much fame and hype too quickly. He may have had his moments at Inter but his antics at Manchester City were more often than not well out of the realm of the excuse “Oh, it’s because he’s young.” Fortunately, Balotelli has performed extremely well since moving back to Italy.

There is similar risks in Neymar’s situation. You’re taking someone who is already quite rich and has shown he has a care-free attitude and bringing to football’s biggest stage in the world where you will give him more money and expect him to become ruthless in terms of winning games. No disrespect to Santos, but they aren’t winning as many matches as Barcelona nor do they currently have the winning attitude that the Catalan side has.

No one wants to see Neymar flame out before his time has come but as his hype grows everyday we have to admit that this is a real possibility. The hounds will be out if he moves to Barcelona and doesn’t finish second in scoring in La Liga to Lionel Messi.They’ll knock him if he takes longer than a game or two to acclimate himself to a new country, a new league and a new team. He’ll be under a microscope that not even Messi has had to experience.

I think we need to take a moment and remember that we are talking about a 21-year-old kid despite all the talent he has. At a better club, he will progress and likely cement himself as one of the game’s great but we have to let it happen naturally. So calm down, we have at least ten more years of him playing at the top.

 

Summer Transfer Speculation Shows Lack of Respect for FFP

Throughout the season, we’ve heard teams were going to be spending less with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play on the horizon. Straddled with the fear of being excluded from the continental competitions, clubs were supposed to be looking to expand their sides with the cheapest possible options or relying on their current players to improve in an effort to foster progression. However, one look at the moves being lined up for the summer will tell you (whether they are true or not) that most of the bigger clubs don’t believe FFP is an issue.

Soon-to-be Ligue 1 side Monaco has money to spend and they seem to be in pole position to land Radamel Falcao from Atletico Madrid in a spectacular transfer coup and yet, there are reports linking them with numerous other high value players such as Carlos Tevez and Bacary Sagna. I find it hard to believe that Monaco’s income will balance out their purchases if they do indeed get Falcao and, let’s say, Tevez. Those two players alone would come with a ridiculously high price tag.

Dmitry Evgenevich Rybololev is behind AS Monaco's high-spending ways.

Dmitry Evgenevich Rybololev is behind AS Monaco’s high-spending ways.

The Ligue 1 new boys are just the tip of the iceberg. Chelsea and Manchester City look to be back in for big summers with new managers coming to Stamford Bridge and the Etihad, respectively, despite the Premier League instituting it’s own financial regulations. Manchester United posted record profit, but getting Cristiano Ronaldo would put a gigantic dent into it.

And you can bet that the rumblings that financial fair play is actually illegal has something to do with the empty threat that it poses.

Just last week, news broke that Belgium-registered agent Daniel Striani filed an official challenge to the rules with the European Commission claiming that they restricted his income.

Striani will be represented by Belgian lawyer, Jean Louis-Dupont. If you don’t remember who he is, in 1995, he represented Jean Marc-Bosman and defeated UEFA and the commission when Bosman’s football contract denied him freedom of movement. Prior to this, clubs in some parts of Europe were able to prevent their players from transferring to other countries even if their contracts had expired.

UEFA believes they have an open-and-shut case because the European Club Association agreed to the rules. However, the ECA only has 207 members. All Striani needs is for other clubs to back him and the expected five-year legal fight may not go in UEFA’s favor.

Regardless of what happens in this case, it looks like clubs are willing to continue to spend wildly in order to improve their squads. It’s simple math. If a club wants to win trophies, they have to spend money. If they don’t win trophies, they won’t make money. If they don’t have the quality to win, they won’t win trophies anyway.

The solution? Throw caution to the wind, forget about FFP for a summer and break the bank to win as many trophies and as much money as possible before it catches up to you.

Sure, We Believe You Sepp

Sunday’s Serie A night game at the San Siro between AC Milan and AS Roma was momentarily halted because of racist chants aimed at Mario Balotelli and Kevin-Prince Boateng from the Roma Ultras. Under Serie A protocol, an announcement was made over the public address system and the game continued under the threat of being abandoned if the chants continued.

Mario Balotelli tries to quiet racist chants from the Roma Ultras Sunday.

Mario Balotelli tries to quiet racist chants from the Roma Ultras Sunday.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter was “appalled” that a game was suspended for racial abuse and Lega Calcio fined Roma €50,000 ($64,900). Again, a paltry amount for a club that’s paying its players much more than that everyday.

Blatter pledged to fight this problem what seems like years ago but the fines that have been handed down are little more than slaps on the wrists and a bit of a timeout in the corner before it happens with the same club a few months later. Lazio’s Ultras, Roma’s Stadio Olimpico co-tenant, was involved in numerous racial chants incidents in the span of two or three months but they weren’t fined much more than their Rome neighbors.

At the end of the day, you can only chalk this up to political rhetoric. Soothing the nerves of the masses who are too busy, too ignorant or too blind to the depth of the situation that they accept what is being said. Fortunately for the football community, I’d imagine that the vast majority of its inhabitants think racism severe enough to warrant players walking off the pitch and games being abandoned needs to be blotted from the game.

As of now, it seems like the fines are always too little. Fining top tier club and entire football associations, €50-100,000 isn’t going to do anything in the grand scheme of things. Forcing them to play a few games behind closed doors only goes so far.

We all remember the scrum between Serbia’s and England’s U-21 National Teams where Serbia’s fans ran on the field and fights broke out. That all began because of racist chants directed at England’s Danny Rose. UEFA ordered Serbia, a country which has a long history of racial abuse at their football matches, to play a game behind closed doors and fined them £65,000.

For comparison’s sake, Nicklas Bendtner was fined £80,000 for showing a sponsor’s logo on his boxers which wasn’t a partner of UEFA during Euro 2012.

One man fined more than an entire FA? For showing a logo on his underwear? Bendtner didn’t spark a near-riot by showing that logo. Danny Rose’s reaction, which we can argue whether he was right or wrong until we are blue in the face, to racial abuse did.

It’s time that the punishments are ramped up. Clubs and FAs need to be banned from competitions for repeated racial abuse. Sides need to be docked points immediately for repeated racial abuse.These paltry fines handed out to clubs that can easily pay them need to be doubled, tripled even quadrupled.

Here’s a good model for FIFA and all the governing bodies of the continents. Here in the United States, the NCAA oversees college and university athletics. In the ’80s, Southern Methodist University was sanctioned for paying their athletes (these players are considered amateurs and can’t be paid) multiple times in a few years’ time.

In 1986, their American football program received the so-called “Death Penalty” banning them from playing for a year. They didn’t play the next season either. They are only just recovering as a team and no program dares do enough to invoke the wrath of the NCAA almost 30 years later.

Don’t threaten it. Do it.

When is a Club Successful?

It’s a topic that has been run through the ringers too many times over the past few years as more nouveau rich clubs pop up on Europe’s football landscape. Of course some have last longer than others, the funding being pulled away just as quickly as it arrived but for the ones that remain — or even for the clubs that aren’t backed by petrol-dollars but lack the tradition of the more prestigious sides around the world — when is it okay for supporters to dub their team successful?

Swansea City is one of England's upstarts, but how successful can we call them now?

Swansea City is one of England’s upstarts, but how successful can we call them now?

Many point to silverware as the defining factor of success, arguing that a club is only as successful as its trophy case is vast. We’re talking the Barcelonas, Real Madrids, Juventus(es?) and Manchester Uniteds of the footballing world. The clubs that expect to finish every campaign with at least one cup being added to the cabinet. However, I’m willing to argue that this is a far too simple way of looking at this.

In my opinion, as long as a club is making forward progress, they can be deemed successful. It doesn’t matter how it is achieved, if a club goes from wallowing in relegation battles of lower leagues to fighting for European spots in the country’s top flight, they should get the respect they are due.

Let’s take Swansea City for example. They aren’t that far removed from being a mid-to-bottom of the table side in League 2 or the old Third Division. A few well thought out managerial hires here and a couple cheap player buys there and they are going to be playing European football next season after winning the League Cup.

The Swans’ trophy case isn’t filled to the top but are we really not going to call them successful for such a reason? Most teams get relegated in their second season in the Premier League. With continued improvement, Swansea may be pushing Everton for Europa League spots every season.

For a look at a club with much higher ambitions, Manchester City is moving in the right direction. You can argue that finishing 2nd this season is a step backwards, but it isn’t often that teams other than United repeat in the Premier League. Regardless of the point gap or whatever qualifier you want to attach to it, the league was a two-horse battle from the onset and a few sub-par performances saw City fall behind their crosstown rivals.

And for Borussia Dortmund, coming out of a period when they were struggling to stay in the Bundesliga after their Golden Era of the 1990s, one could argue that they are possibly as successful as any club in Europe right now. They may not have the trophies of Bayern Munich, but their battle from the bottom of the table to the final of the Champions League is sign enough.

Barcelona’s Messi-Dependency

In the two-legged semi-final against Bayern Munich, it has been downright painful watching Barcelona. That gilt edge that they’ve been known for playing with was dulled and the Bavarians dominated them for 180 minutes to the tune of an astounding 7-0. While I did predict something like this would happen to Barca, I didn’t think they would roll over as easily as they did when they decided to not play the world’s greatest player, Lionel Messi, showing their dependency on the Argentine.

It’s not often that you see the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta being hauled off, not because they are hurt or being rested but because they aren’t involved in the game. It seemed as if the entire machine failed to work properly without Messi in the fold. Of course, it also failed to work when Messi was on the field in the first-leg albeit with a bit of a knock.

Lionel Messi watched from the bench as Bayern Munich completed the dismantling of Barcelona.

Lionel Messi watched from the bench as Bayern Munich completed the dismantling of Barcelona.

As strange as it sounds, a club with the world class talent that Barcelona has has developed a frightening dependency on one player. It’s the same knock against Tottenham and Gareth Bale, however, one would believe that Barca has the talent to overcome any dependency on any one player.

Tito Vilanova has a problem on his hands. He needs to find a way to break the dangerously strong link between Messi’s play and the success of the team. His side is good enough to beat anyone with or without Lionel Messi, but they should still be able to put the ball into the back of the net even with him sitting on the bench.

And that’s why I think it’s time for the Blaugrana to start filtering in the next crop of players and re-tooling their side. Don’t misunderstand me here, I don’t think they should get away from what has gotten them to where they are, but I think they need to get players in who haven’t developed the tendency to look to Messi to bail them out of the difficult situations they find themselves in.

It’s time for Barcelona to see if players like Gerard Deulofeu, Cristian Tello and Jonathan Dos Santos have what it takes to continue to move this club in the right direction or if they need to bring in the likes of Neymar to get the club’s ambition and drive back to where it was under Pep Guardiola.

By no means is this a knock against the team’s talent. We all know that Barcelona is one of the best teams in the world on their day but that’s not the team that we’ve saw in the two legs against Bayern Munich.

We saw a club that was overmatched, outcoached, outplayed, out-everything and it has a lot to do with Barcelona’s dependence on Lionel Messi.

A Special Failure in Madrid

Again, Real Madrid was ousted in the Champions League semi-finals despite their valiant effort to fight back from their 4-1 deficit against Borussia Dortmund. This makes the third straight year that the Merengues have been knocked out of the race for the cup for the big ears, all under Jose Mourinho. With the money backing them and the amount of talent at the Bernabeu, it could be considered a massive failure that Mourinho has only won three trophies while in Madrid.

Jose Mourinho is known as the Special One, but his special-ness hasn't extended fully to Real Madrid.

Jose Mourinho is known as the Special One, but his special-ness hasn’t extended fully to Real Madrid.

Mind you, they do still have the final of the Copa del Rey to play against Atletico Madrid and if last week’s game against them is any sign then they will probably bring that cup home this season. However, when you look at Mourinho’s track record, you can easily believe that Real Madrid expect more than a couple Copa del Reys, a La Liga title and a Suppacoppa.

His list of accolades demand more. Just take a look.

  • Porto: Primeira Liga (2), Taça de Portugal, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup (Europa League)
  • Chelsea: Premier League (2), FA Cup, League Cup (2)
  • Internazionale: Serie A (2), Coppa Italia, UEFA Champions League

With that in mind, you have to believe that the Special One has failed at Real Madrid. He’s been quoted as being a master at managing his players and a student of the game, but when he got his shot to cement himself as one of, if not the, greatest manager of all time he fell well short of the mark.

Even in a season where Barcelona has looked less than impressive at times in continental play, Real Madrid wasn’t able to keep pace with them in the league and have been pegged into second place well before the mid-way point of the season.

It could be the reason that Mourinho is dropping hints that he is ready to leave Spain’s capital to return to Chelsea where he will have both the transfer kitty of Real Madrid with half the expectations. Roman Abramovich is known to be quick in sacking his managers but surely he won’t do that to the only manager who has brought him success for more than a couple months.

Jose Mourinho will go down as one of the greatest managers of all-time when his career is over but everyone will remember the time he went to Real Madrid and couldn’t produce a Champions League with a massive amount of money and a hugely talented squad that featured one of the top two players in the world.

Should Clubs Sell Players to Rivals?

We’ve seen it before, a club being forced into a sale by a player and that player being sold to a direct rival of said club. Arsenal sold Robin van Persie to Manchester United. Obviously, this is only one example of this happening but I chose him because  van Persie played direct roles in Manchester United winning the Premier League. I’m sure a quick search could yield more results of players going from one side of a heated rivalry to the other.

After this season, Mario Götze will join the list of players who moved between rival clubs and it begs the question of should clubs sell their players to clubs who are rivals, either historically or in the grand scheme of winning a championship in their league.

Carlos Tevez went from Manchester United to Manchester City, but is it right to sell to rivals?

Carlos Tevez went from Manchester United to Manchester City after a loan deal, but is it right to sell to rivals?

Hypothetically, we would like to say that clubs shouldn’t do this and I tend to agree. Nothing would anger me more than United somehow prying Vincent Kompany away from the Etihad, but not because United had gotten better but because City sold him to the other side of the city.

Transfers are meant to strengthen clubs and we know that sometimes, clubs’ hands are forced when it comes to want-away players. Would Arsenal have benefited more from sending van Persie to Italy, Spain or Germany? I’ve seen a modified table taking out every club’s top scorer and United would have theoretically still won the Prem, but that’s only when using the season’s actual stats.

Tottenham is doing it the right way. Any time Gareth Bale is linked with a Premier League team, he is also linked with an astronomical transfer fee. They would rather send him to Spain and never play against him than send him to United, City, Arsenal or Chelsea and have to face him multiple times a season.

I also think the big two in Spain are good about not doing this. How many times have you seen a player leave Real Madrid for Barcelona or vice versa. There aren’t many stars who have made that particular move in either direction, I can assure you.

At the end of the day, money is the name of the game. No club is going to turn down a big paycheck, no matter where its coming from. City’s money is good at Old Trafford, Arsenal’s money is good at White Hart Lane and Everton’s money is good at Anfield.

But at some point, on some purely competition level, some executive has to step up and say “No, our clubs are rivals and I refuse to sell him to you regardless of how much money you are willing to pay.”

Edit: It seems in my haste and fog of early morning, I accidentally said Tevez was sold to Manchester City. I apologize for the mistake.