He had his country in thrall as he helped Brazil through a tricky World Cup group and set them en-route for the semi-finals. The brutal back injury that ended his tournament in the last eight against Colombia led to a national outpouring of grief.
When Neymar spoke about the injury, millions of fans around the globe hung on his every word. Now, however, his comments about Brazil’s training methods and apparent lack of focus are dividing a nation which is still coming to terms with the 7-1 humiliation against Germany and the 3-0 defeat by Holland.
“Every training session there [in Europe] is taken seriously,” said Neymar, who is recovering from fractured vertebrae before returning to Barcelona. “In Brazil it’s different. You train more, but sometimes you train with less determination. Brazilians are like that.
“I think [Brazilian football] is behind. It’s behind Germany and Spain. We have stayed behind yes, and we have to be men up to admit that.”
The last bit is obvious but “less determination”…Shocked? No, Neymar is just following a Brazilian tradition – agreeing with criticism after the harm is done.
A lot of people in the press wrote about our poor training routine before, but the players kept smiling for the cameras in interviews during the tournament. Neymar is a good player but is a even better poster boy. I’m sure he was allowed to be that ‘sincere’ by people in the governing body.
There were even shades of Roy Keane’s infamous rant about Ireland’s lack of professionalism and his subsequent expulsion from his country’s World Cup squad during the 2002 tournament in Japan and South Korea.
Neymar, though, is certain things will soon improve. “We’re getting ready for 2018,” he said. “I think Lucas Moura, Philippe Coutinho, Bernard, Oscar … we are still new. We have 20, 21 years, so we can do very well in the Russia Wold Cup.
“I think I need have to prepare myself more and more. He who prepares better wins in football. Preparation is everything. Travelling, hotels, in training, choosing your boots – everything.” Yes, preparation is the least we can expect. Perhaps Dunga’s expected return as manager will help knock them into shape.