Sochi, Russia • Once a critic of Neymar’s antics, Brazil coach Tite now defends the demeanor of his team’s star.
“Winning or losing is part of the game,” Tite said in 2012 after coaching Corinthians in a match against Santos and Neymar. “But to pretend and try to take advantage, that’s not part of the game. That’s a bad example for a kid, for my son, for those who are going to watch this and think that it’s good to take advantage of others.”
Neymar had been accused of faking an injury in the game, and video of Tite’s criticism was widely viewed.
Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio criticized Neymar — without mentioning his name — after the striker writhed in apparent agony after Miguel Layun stepped on an ankle, then recovered as if no incident had occurred during the 2-0 win over El Tri.
“We wasted a lot of time because of one single player,” Osorio said. “I think this is a real shame for football, especially for kids who are watching because this has to be a sport of virility, of determination, a man’s sport, like other games, and not a charade.”
Neymar was asked to respond to Osorio, but Tite intervened before Neymar could start talking during the news conference. Tite said hierarchy must be respected in soccer. He said only coaches would answer to coaches, and players would respond only to players.
Neymar was being defended by many in Brazil, especially because he has been playing well and is helping the team succeed at the World Cup, but he continued to be loudly criticized internationally for his antics.
The 26-year-old forward said some people were trying to gain attention by going after him. Others were attempting to undermine him, he said.
“I don’t care much for criticism,” Neymar said after the Mexico match. “Not even for praise sometimes, because that can affect a player’s mind. I only need to play football. I need to help my teammates, help my team. That’s why I’m here. I came here to win.”
Tite hadn’t been the first manager to criticize Neymar in Brazil.
Rene Simoes, who coached many of Brazil’s clubs and led Brazil’s women’s national team to a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics, didn’t save words after a very young Neymar went crazy on the field for not being allowed to take a penalty kick for Santos in 2010, disrespecting teammates and his coach.
“Something has to be done to educate this kid,” he said then. “We are creating a monster.”
After a decade of duopoly, the FIFA-run vote to crown soccer’s best player seems open to third parties after Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo left the World Cup early.
Neymar must help Brazil lift the trophy next week if he wants to join the greats, according to the World Cup winner who first took home FIFA’s top individual award.
Cutting out the play-acting would also help Neymar win votes, 1990 World Cup winner Lothar Matthaeus said.
“We need players like Neymar,” said the former West Germany captain, who won the inaugural FIFA world player award in 1991. “But not with this acting what he was doing now in each game.”
A debate about Neymar faking injury and overreacting to tackles is polarizing opinion between European outrage and Brazilian defense.
Former England forward Alan Shearer called Neymar’s behavior “absolutely pathetic” in a British broadcast Monday. Neymar’s theatrics distracted from Brazil’s 2-0 win over Mexico that took the five-time champion into the quarterfinals.
“The criticism is nonsense,” Brazil great Ronaldo told reporters Wednesday. “I am against all these opinions you mentioned. I don’t think referees have been protecting him enough.”
Ronaldo, a three-time winner of FIFA’s best player award, and Matthaeus spoke at a briefing about the individual accolade that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have won five times each in the past decade.