Two Brazilian footballers, two completely different lives. One who enjoyed success at every stage of his career, the other who endured an immense struggle over the years.
While one nursed a burning ambition of being a lightning-quick goalscorer capable of scoring goals against the toughest of defences with his pace and trickery, the other was more inclined towards emerging as a box-to-box midfielder who could break down attacks with his physical gameplay and brute force.
While one developed a reputation of being a wonder kid at the tender age of 17 for Santos, emerging as a thorn for opposition defences, and drawing interest from premier outfits like Real Madrid, the other endured a difficult start to his career, failing to find his feet at any of his initial clubs before finally settling in at Brazilian giants Corinthians.
Despite their differences, what connects these two Brazilians is their connection to legendary Spanish outfit FC Barcelona, having emerged as one of the few footballers from the nation to have donned the much-coveted jersey.
The players being referred to are Neymar and Paulinho. While Neymar enjoyed a welcome befitting that of a hero all set to conquer the hearts of the audience with his performances following a move for a record sum, Paulinho’s signature under Valverde was greeted with sniggers and jeers with many deeming the acquisition as a sign of Barcelona’s drooping standards.
The fans were ready to shower Neymar with all the love and affection he desired going, to the extent of hailing him as the long-awaited heir of Argentine superstar Lionel Messi. Paulinho, on the other hand, enjoyed a step-motherly treatment from his own fans who were sharpening their knives in anticipation, eager to see the ex-Tottenham Hotspur man emerge as the flop of the season.
The stage was perfectly set in the eyes of fans and experts for Neymar to join the likes of Rivaldo, Ronaldinho as cult legends in the coming years. Sadly, Neymar failed to handle the limelight when it mattered the most. The praise, critical acclaim from all corners of the footballing world resulted in a sense of impatience slowly developing in the heart of the winger who deemed working as an understudy to Lionel Messi as nothing but beneath his standards. The talented winger decided to take matters in his own hands, forcing through a move to French giants PSG for a world record sum where he was guaranteed the solace of being the leading man.
Matters have only gone downhill from thereon, with the 26-year-old failing miserably when handed the responsibility of leading the club on to its first ever Champions League trophy in his debut season attracting widespread criticism. The burden of expectations has also negatively affected the technique and capabilities of the winger with the Brazilian expected to score in heaps and bounds. Neymar has indicated an ever-increasing willingness towards playacting and theatrics in search of an undeserved penalty or free-kick which has been exposed mercilessly.
His performances at the recently concluded world cup for Brazil were a further indication of his drooping capabilities and increasing propensity to dive at any opportunity.
Neymar dropped deep, slowed down the overall gameplay and ignored passing options, adopting an extremely selfish attitude as well in possession. His decision making was questionable at times with the winger intent on attempting to humiliate his opponents. In the opening match against Switzerland, the 26-year-old slowed the play down to walking pace at times, ignoring his teammates to run down blind alleys and draw fouls from opponents.
The Brazilian starlet wasted almost 14 minutes with his theatrics when he hit the deck looking for a foul which attracted a lot of negative attention. Neymar was also accused of hurting Brazil’s chances after Gabriel Jesus was denied a penalty following a challenge from Vincent Kompany. Darting into the Belgium box from the left, Neymar went tumbling to the ground under the slightest of contact from Marouane Fellaini. On that occasion, the Paris Saint- Germain star was lucky to avoid receiving a yellow card.
As on three occasions in the second half, Brazilian players went down in the Belgium penalty area appealing for a penalty, only for the referee, and the video assistant referees watching in Moscow, to be unmoved. BBC co-commentator Danny Murphy said: “It’s a shame Neymar, with such wonderful talent.” “He feels like he has to continuously deceive people.” “He tried to kick Fellaini to try and make it look like a penalty.”
His ill-advised decisions have resulted in him losing the love and respect of millions of fans around the world more specifically the Barcelona fans who initially swore by him.
Paulinho, on the other hand, utilised all the experience he earned during his years of struggle at clubs like Tottenham Hotspur delivering excellent performances during his stint with the club with an air of humbleness. His ability to break down the opposition attack, thread together passes at an impressive passing accuracy, creating chances and scoring goals made him a fan-favourite with many regretting the decision to look down on him initially. Many Barcelona fans even went to the extent of begging for his forgiveness on Twitter following his glorious performances for the club.
The daunting midfielder recently joined his ex-CSL club Guangzhou Evergrande during the ongoing summer transfer window but will always be remembered by the fans as one of the few Brazilians who indeed made the club and fans proud with his attitude and performances, unlike a certain someone.
Football is full of interesting tales and the contrasting fates of the 2 Brazilians is certainly an irresistible tale in itself which may be all set for a final twist.
By: Arnab Mukherji