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Neymar crumbled when PSG needed him against Bayern Munich, and when it mattered most his game went to pieces

AFTER Paris Saint Germain had lost to Bayern Munich in Sunday’s Champions League final, Neymar went to social media to make the point that the team had given its all and that losing was a part of sport.

It was a classic example of one of the defining features of social media – that what you represent is not necessarily what you are.

Because the Neymar we had all seen on the Lisbon pitch did not appear to behave at all as if he thought that losing was a part of sport.

He greeted defeat with a river of tears, and had to be coaxed out of his seat to join his team-mates and collect his medal.

True, those in sport can never be happy to lose. But the real problem here was not how Neymar behaved after the final whistle had blown – it was the way that the prospect of defeat had a negative effect on his performance during the game.

There have been many times when Neymar has been criticised unjustly.

His petulant excesses mean that many are reluctant to praise him, and quick to blame him for things that are not his fault.

It is unfair to pin Brazil’s disastrous 2014 World Cup on his slender shoulders – he was injured in the quarter finals.

And his displays in Russia two years ago were pretty good bearing in mind that he was making his way back from an extended injury absence.

And before this season he had been forced out of almost all the knock out games that PSG had played in the Champions League over the past two years.

There is also clearly much more to him than the appearance – that he can often give on the field – of being a spoiled eternal adolescent. He is usually popular with his team-mates.

But too much of that adolescent remains – and that, for his many fans, is the most disappointing lesson of the 2020 Champions League final.

It is undeniable that he is under enormous pressure. Brazil have many excellent players.

But Neymar is the stand out talent, the man expected to live up to the legacy of Pele and Garrincha.

And when he left Barcelona, moving out of the shadow of Lionel Messi, he was making a conscious choice to accept the pressures of carrying PSG to greatness.

On Sunday it all looked too much. Not because he played badly. He did some fine things in the first half. His acceleration and balance were both on show with the left footed shot that was well blocked by Manuel Neuer.

The problem was that once Bayern took the lead – at the moment that PSG most needed their star man to step up – he crumbled.

The real test of a team, and of a player, is the response to going behind. Neymar failed this one badly.

For a 20 minute spell after the goal, he could do nothing right. His every touch was an error.

All players go through bad spells. They can get themselves back in rhythm by keeping it simple, retaining possession and rediscovering their touch.

Neymar seemed unable to do this. He was so emotionally affected by the proximity of defeat that, when it mattered most, his game went to pieces.

In competitive matches for Brazil Neymar has only been on the losing side twice – not counting a penalty shoot out defeat back in 2011.

There was the quarter final loss to Belgium in Russia 2018, which he confessed was a huge blow.

And there was a 1-0 defeat to Colombia in the Copa America of 2015, when he was superbly marked by Carlos Sanchez – and became so frustrated that he lashed out at the referee after the game and picked up a long suspension.

He has not been prepared to lose – a fault not just in him but in those who have developed him. And until he can cope better with the prospect of defeat, the great triumphs will be much more difficult to achieve.

Going into Sunday’s big game, many in Brazil were trusting that their big star was now ‘Ney Adult.’

He may be closer to 29 than 28, but under the harsh spotlight of the global glare, Neymar showed that there is still work to be done on his emotional development for that tag to be true.


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