“He’s a diver and a cheat. He’s a YouTube player.”
Those were the words of every anti-Barça voice when the signing of Neymar Jr. was close to being completed. Who could blame them? Neymar is still young and learning and during the first season at the Catalan club the player indeed was diving a lot. Neymar struggled during his first season in Europe and it was only fair as crossing continents isn’t so easy at all. In Brazil, Ney was used to making too many “YouTube” dribbles, dives and getting players booked, so his switch to Europe, which demands a more team play approach and less diving, was not easy. However, he slowly started to understand that this had to change and it is safe to say that the Brazilian crack does not dive as he used to.
Last season, Neymar was spectacular on every front. Yes he sometimes provokes other players during matches but it is becoming much less each season. He started becoming a big game player and that was evident especially during the big UEFA Champions League matches, and most notably, he matched Leo Messi’s and Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal tally of 10 goals during the 2014/2015 Champions League. Certainly, playing alongside Messi, a player that never dives and keeps going until the last breath encouraged Neymar to try and follow his example.
I’ve seen this first hand. When I attended the Copa del Rey final of last season( 2014/2015) I noticed that the entire Athletic Club team was trying to irritate Neymar hoping to make him falter. I was astonished that he walked away from every attempt not saying a word, just walking away from the provocation.
Playing at a club like Barcelona requires extreme professionalism and to be honest, of course diving is part of the game but too much diving and acting is not. That is what the Brazilian realized, that in order to conquer the world, he must try and emulate his idol, Messi. The Argentine is far from being a diver and is always fighting for every ball. “Something deep in my character allows me to take the hits, and get on with trying to win.” And that is what Neymar is doing now, he is trying to become an example by reducing the diving and focusing on going the extra mile to win. Especially in Messi’s absence, the Barça number 11 is tipped to carry the weight until our little Argentine returns.
It is only human to make mistakes and Neymar is still growing and learning everyday. Yes he still needs to work on his temper, that was seen during the 2015 Copa America, but again those are lessons that it seems he is learning from. Playing alongside the best yet humble players in the world such as Leo Messi, Andrés Iniesta and Xavi Hernández made Neymar convinced that his attitude must change, and thank God it has.