By: Steve Mitchell
“You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else”
He is 23-years-old, he has riches beyond anyone’s imagination and every time he pulls on the national team jersey he carries the hopes of an entire nation. Brazilian superstar Neymar will miss the rest of the 2015 Copa America after head-butting Carlos Bacca of Colombia at the end of their Group C encounter last week.
Frustrated at not being able to drag his team back into a game they would ultimately lose 1-0 Neymar, intimidated by his opponents for 90 minutes, finally snapped after the final-whistle to leave his devoted fans in the stadium and millions around the world watching on television, stunned that the tournament has now been robbed of one of its star performers.
But the Barcelona striker is just the latest in a long line of players who’s ability to self-destruct at any given moment elevates them to superstar status and sets them above everyone else. Take a look through the history books and it will become clear that Neymar is no different to some of his predecessors.
George Best – A sixties icon
George Best was a sixties icon at Manchester United, Pele said he was the best player he’d ever seen.He remains one of football’s most charismatic figures but the Irishman took the rule book and ripped it up as he thrilled supporters with some scintillating skills.
In 1968 his Manchester United team were European champions and had a chance to become the first English side to win the World Club Championship. Their opponents over two legs were Argentinean side Estudiantes, and in a brutal first leg encounter at Old Trafford Best was the subject of some horrific challenges from the cynical Argentines.
In the end, Best decided he’d had enough and was sent off for punching an opponent. It was the beginning of the end for a player who was idolised by millions. His love of the good life overpowered his desire to play football and an addiction to alcohol robbed the game of an incredible talent.
Maradona’s World Cup in 1986
The World Cup in Mexico 1986 belonged to Argentina but in reality it belonged to Diego Maradona. The diminutive midfielder dragged his team to the title almost single handed, he was quite simply unplayable. A year later he helped Napoli win the Serie A championship for the first time and three years later he helped them win it again. What happened in the following decade has been well documented, a player who had everything almost destroyed himself through drug and alcohol abuse.
Thankfully he made a full recovery but even now controversy is never very far away from the man who was known as El Pibe de Oro (The Golden Child). His refusal to apologise to English fans over the “Hand of God” goal in the quarter-final in Mexico and his outspoken comments about Pele and his varied portfolio of endorsements still makes him impossible to ignore.
Neymar is a superstar, he does things with a football that seem impossible. He will no doubt fully regret his actions in Santiago last week but unfortunately we all have to accept that this is just part of his DNA. He is a genius, a flawed genius and we should all be grateful that he’s around in our lifetime.