Did Neymar get what he deserves for showboating in PSG wins?
Paris Saint-Germain will have to cope without Neymar again for a critical part of the season. The Brazilian left the pitch in tears last week in the French Cup against Strasbourg after injuring his fifth metatarsal again -- the same one he needed surgery on last season when he was ruled out between the end of February and the end of May.
This time he and the club have decided against another surgery, but he will still miss huge games like the clash at Lyon on Sunday, the two legs of the Champions League round of 16 against Manchester United and Le Classique against Marseille.
Yet the French media has been involved in a different debate. It's not about how much PSG will miss Neymar for those games; it's whether or not the forward got what was coming to him for his showboating.
Strasbourg coach Thierry Laurey defended his players during his news conference after the 2-0 loss, even getting into an argument with some journalists, but suggested that the Brazilian should take some of the blame for the rough treatment he was afforded.
"I understand if my players had enough of being mocked," said Laurey. "It's good to protect people, but there are some limits. When you make a pass with your back, it's mocking people. When you exceed the limits, you have to take responsibility. And to take responsibility means that he will get kicked. I didn't ask my players to kick [him], but at some point, I understand why they get fed up of him because he keeps taking the mick."
Laurey was referring to Neymar making a pass with his back in the 9-0 win against Guingamp the previous weekend; the Brazilian also humiliated Strasbourg midfielder Moataz Zemzemi with a rainbow flick on Wednesday, alongside many other dribbling tricks like nutmegs and stepovers that did not go down well with the opposition players.
Strasbourg's Anthony Goncalves said after the game: "Neymar, it is his style, but when you want to play like that, you cannot complain when you receive kicks from behind. ... He can enjoy himself, but he can't whine after."
The debate is not new. Neymar has been the victim of rough treatment pretty much since he arrived in Ligue 1 in summer 2017 from Barcelona. His attitude has rubbed many people the wrong way, while PSG have written to the head of French referees twice, asking for more protection for their superstar.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on the subject, and last week, former France internationals Christophe Dugarry and Jerome Rothen had a big argument live on RMC radio.
"Why is Neymar showboating? Is there another player in the world who does that? No," said Dugarry, very much in the anti-Neymar camp.
Rothen, himself a former PSG midfielder, could not disagree more. "Neymar doesn't mock the opposition. Everything he does on the pitch is useful," he said. "When you are so gifted technically like him, that's what you do. When Neymar gets insulted and kicked throughout a game, his way of answering is by enjoying his football -- doing tricks and showing that technically he is better than everyone else and that it's efficient. How can one say that Neymar is being disrespectful with his tricks?"
For Neymar, it is all about having fun while doing his best for his team. He doesn't consider doing tricks as showboating, and also in the forefront of his mind is to give pleasure to the fans by doing things that not many other players can do on the pitch.
As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, one of the greatest German literary figures of the modern era, said: "The person born with a talent they are meant to use will find their greatest happiness in using it." This sums up Neymar perfectly.
One of the most creative players of all time, former Real Madrid and France playmaker Zinedine Zidane once reflected on the same issue: "If you do two or three turns in a row, then the fourth time, the guy against you will tell you that it is enough and will kick you. That's the way it is, and I know it."
So there is a limit. Neymar's tricks are a part of his game, and nobody would want to take away his ability to express himself, but he has to understand that if he overdoes it then it will be seen as a provocation to an opposition that needs no second invitation to make a physical mark on him.
For those not as skillful as Neymar, such talent is always a provocation anyway. But PSG can't afford to be without their star man at such a crucial time of the season. Next year, the club may suggest he keep his tricks and flicks on the training ground, for fear of the same thing happening again.