Targeted by protesters as a symbol of football’s disconnection from reality, Brazil superstar Neymar went on the counter-attack by chiding the government and then sinking Mexico on the pitch in the Confederations Cup.
Lauded ever since his debut as a teenager for Santos, the prodigious attacker has long been accustomed to being the centre of attention. Typically, it is praise from male football supporters and howls from his female fan club, nicknamed the ‘Neymarzetes’, that he attracts.
When he has received criticism, it has tended to focus on the gulf between his dazzling displays for Santos and his rather prosaic performances for Brazil. But on Wednesday, the critics moved the goal-posts. The mass protests that have rolled across Brazil since last week, initially against public transport price increases, have widened their scope.
Now, as well as calling for better funding in health and education, the demonstrators have begun to denounce the vast sums invested by the government in the Confederations Cup and next year’s World Cup. And a slogan was coined as some 15,000 people marched in Fortaleza, prior to Brazil’s match with Mexico: “Brazil wake up, a teacher is worth more than Neymar!”
The 21-year-old forward, who joined Barcelona in a deal reportedly worth USD 75.3 million had initially kept his silence. But after 250,000 people took to the streets of Brazil on Monday, national team stars David Luiz, Hulk and Dani Alves spoke out in support of the movement, and Neymar was quick to follow suit. Neymar, though, went even further than his teammates, attacking the government in a manner rare for a high-profile sportsperson.
“Saddened by all that is occurring in Brazil,” he wrote on his Instagram account. “I always had faith that it would not be necessary to come to the point of having to take to the streets to demand better conditions for transport, health, education and security. All this is the OBLIGATION of the government.”
He went on, seeking to underline that he, too, is a part of the Brazilian people. “My parents worked hard to be able to provide my sister and me with a minimal quality of life,” he said. “Today, with the success that you give me, it may seem like demagoguery on my part — but it’s not the case — to pick up the torch of the demonstrations that have swept the whole of Brazil.
“But I am BRAZILIAN and I love my country!! I have family and friends who live in Brazil!! It’s also for that that I want a Brazil that is more just, more safe, in better health and more honest!!! “The only possibility I have to represent and defend the country is to play ball on the pitch. And starting from this match against Mexico, I’ll go onto the pitch inspired by this movement.” He stuck to his word.
Having previously scored a fine opening goal in Brazil’s 3-0 win over Japan, he broke the deadlock against Mexico with a sumptuous left-foot volley and then completed a man-of-the-match display by brilliantly teeing up Jo for the second goal in a 2-0 win.