A Disrespectful Neymar?

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.

Neymar, about to take a penalty for Brazil during the 2012 Olympics

Neymar, about to take a penalty for Brazil during the 2012 Olympics

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.

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Champions League Group Stage Draw 2013-14

Atletico de Madrid's stadium

There will be some Champions League football played here in a few weeks time

After yesterday evening’s excitement at Celtic Park, with the hoop-ed ones claiming a second successive appearance in the Champions League group stages, it was down to UEFA today to make the draw event as mind-bogglingly dull as possible, which as usual they succeeded in doing.

To give UEFA some credit, however, this year’s slightly skewed seeding system (Arsenal as first seeds? Come on) has thrown up some beauties in the group draw. Things may for once get a little interesting before the last 16 comes along, particularly in these sets of four:

Group H

The group that is nearest the end of the alphabet is probably the most intriguing. Four former European Cup winners in Barcelona, AC Milan, Ajax and Celtic make up a group that will attract rather a lot of media attention over the next 3 and a half months. Clearly much will be made of Barcelona’s return to Glasgow after Celtic’s historic victory last year, and while although Milan and Ajax are no longer the forces they once were, they should still provide a test in Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s first taste of the Champions League as Barca manager. I see the top two seeds going through here, though Celtic may just take third and entry into the Europa League.

Group F

Arsenal might inexplicably be first seeds for the group stage draw but this year’s selection has been rather unkind to the perennial fourth-placers. Joining them are Marseille, Borussia Dortmund and Napoli. Dortmund are of course last year’s runners up and though Götze-less have added to their youthful and vibrant squad, while Napoli have spent the Edinson Cavani money wisely under old head Rafa Benitez. Though Marseille are former winners they are perhaps the weakest side in this extremely tough group; the chaps from the Velodrome have not performed well in this competition since the heady days of Basile Boli and ’93. In the end I fancy Dortmund and Napoli to come through.

The Rest

As well as these two show-stopping groups, there are some other rather interesting ties in the remaining quartets. Group A sees David Moyes debut in Europe’s premiere competition (bar getting gubbed by Villarreal in a qualifier with Everton in 2005), with Manchester United probably having an easy enough time of it against Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen and Real Sociedad. Group B provides a re-run of the 1998 final with Real Madrid and Juventus; it’s unlikely that Galatasaray and FC Kobenhavn will put up much resistance against two sides with 11 European Cups between them.

Group C should see Benfica and Paris St Germain through at the expense of Olympiakos and Anderlecht. Group D looks like providing Manchester City with their best chance of qualifying for the last 16 yet; a Bayern Munich still adapting to Pep Guardiola’s ways will be joined by CSKA Moscow, who are probably the weakest of the second seeds, and Czech underdogs Viktoria Plzen.

Group E meanwhile will presumably be a stroll for Chelsea and their returning irritant Jose Mourinho, with Basel perhaps pipping Schalke 04 and Steaua Bucharest to a place in the knockout stages. Group G is notable for pulling together Radamel Falcao’s two most recent former employers with Porto and Atletico Madrid drawn together; those two should prove too much for Zenit St Petersburg despite their many millions, while debutants Austria Vienna will do well to escape from the group stages with a point to their name.

In all, an attractive draw with Groups H and F providing some real appeal for fans and TV gawpers across Europe. The group stages have tended to be more of a dress rehearsal for the big clubs’ appearances in the knockout stages; this year may prove to be a little different. Hopefully.