Having got in reasonably late on Saturday night, I managed to catch the last few minutes of the Copa Del Rey final thanks to my Dad’s Sky Sports subscription. Though I missed all 4 of the goals in Barca’s 3-1 win, including Leo Messi’s incredible opener, I did catch what for some reason was judged the game’s most controversial moment.
At this point, there were about 4 minutes left. Neymar collected the ball on the left, and performed what I can only describe as a donkey flick (though the move is apparently known as a rainbow flick) of the ball, causing it to fly over the head of Athletic Bilbao right back Unai Bustinza. The Basque full back didn’t take too kindly to being tricked with such exquisite skill and shoved the young Brazilian over.
Chaos then ensued with the Athletic players all giving Neymar a piece of his mind, with a bit of scuffling and what generally counts for “fighting” (unless you’re Bilel Mosnhi) on a football pitch.
This was all a bit “toys out of the pram” stuff – Athletic knew they had lost and clearly felt Neymar had tried to humiliate them. To my mind, that wasn’t his aim – trickery is a big part of Neymar’s game and football is, after all, a game intended to entertain those watching.
Besides the Bilbao reaction, what I couldn’t at all stomach was the reaction of Sky pundit Gerry Armstrong to the Brazilian’s trick. “There’s no need for him to be disrespectful there” were the words which came forth from the sage Northern Irishman.
Sorry, disrespectful? A young man acknowledged as one of the second tier of world class players (the first tier being Messi and Ronaldo) pulled off a wee trick near the end of a match. I found Neymar’s flick rather entertaining – it is the kind of thing I expect world class Brazilian footballers to do from time to time. Armstrong also found time to mention that Neymar had “gone down too easily” having been shoved over by Bustinza.
I must admit I’m not sure why Gerry Armstrong appears on Sky’s Spanish football coverage. He scored that goal against Spain in the 1982 World Cup, as well as spending two years at Real Mallorca. Jonathan Woodgate would almost qualify to be a Spanish football expert on that basis. That said, Robbie Savage is in gainful employment as a football pundit, so the standard isn’t exactly high.
In all then, an incident that annoyed me somewhat. Showing skill on the football field, even in a slightly showboaty manner, is not in my view disrespectful or to be frowned upon. Football is in the 21st century an entertainment product competing against myriad others. Discouraging one of its most famous players from doing entertaining things seems to be something of a retrograde step to me, whether that discouragment comes from players on the field or a former player in the press box.
The video of the incident is below – I particularly like Xavi, in what was his last game at the Camp Nou, making sure his young Brazilian cohort didn’t do anything too rash in the face of the pointless tirade.