THE DEBATE rages on today whether Celtic captain Scott Brown was unlucky or plain stupid in getting himself sent off last night against Barcelona, but the victim of his challenge Neymar - who has been strongly criticised by Neil Lennon - certainly has plenty of previous when it comes to play-acting.
The straight red card shown to Brown by French referee Stephane Lannoy proved to be the pivotal incident of the Champions League Group H encounter at Celtic Park. Brown tripped Neymar as he hurtled down the left wing, then appeared to flick out with his foot at the grounded Brazilian - adjudged by the match officials to be violent conduct.
While Brown’s action could be considered foolish, it was the way Neymar writhed around on the Parkhead turf which angered Lennon and the majority of the 60,000 crowd the most.
Barcelona, already enjoying the lion’s share of play and possession, turned the screw after the dejected Brown had trudged up the tunnel in the 58th minute, with a pat on his back on the way from his bemused manager, and the Spanish champions sealed a 1-0 victory and all three points when Cesc Fabregas guided in a header in the 76th minute.
Villain of the piece as far as the Celtic supporters were concerned was undoubtedly Neymar, who was loudly booed every time he touched the ball in the final 30 minutes. Lennon was also unimpressed with the Brazilian’s behaviour and said in his post-match press conference: “I don’t think Neymar does himself any favours with the way he behaves sometimes. Our supporters are very respectful of great players. Iniesta walks off to a standing ovation [while] Neymar after the incident is booed every time he touches the ball.”
An angry Lennon added: “I think it is very soft. If there was any contact it was minimal. It was a game-changing decision.”
Before the game, match-winner Fabregas had expressed his opinion that £50million signing Neymar would go on to be one of the greats of football. The Brazil striker, still only 21, is blessed with incredible talent, but the former Santos man has already built up an unwelcome reputation for diving and play-acting.
His career is already littered with accusations of unsportsmanlike behaviour, and last night was not the first time he has angered Scottish fans.
After scoring both goals against Scotland in a friendly at the Emirates Stadium in March 2011, Neymar wrongly implied that the Tartan Army had been guilty of racial abuse after a banana skin was thrown at him. After the game he suggested that he had been booed by fans because of his skin colour, when the truth was that any jeering towards him had been because of his over-reaction to tackles during the match, including the one that led to him winning a penalty. Scotland fans were cleared after a swift investigation.
It is his reputation for going down too easily when challenged and simulation for which continues to cloud Neymar’s career however. Even the greatest Brazilian footballer of them all, Pele, to whom Neymar has been compared, has told his compatriot to clean up his act. Pele offered advice to Neymar in 2011, telling him: “Even when he is fouled, he can’t make a spectacle out of it. I told him that he really needs to avoid that.”
Here are five games where he has grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons:
Brazil v Netherlands
Neymar was the man of the match in this goalless friendly in Goiás, but soured his dazzling performance by picking up a booking for a dive late in the game after the referee had given him the benefit of the doubt with his dramatic response to a number of other challenges.
Santos v Penarol
A bad month for Neymar as he is cautioned for simulation in the first leg of his team’s Copa Libertadores cup final against Uruguayans Penarol. His marker Dario Rodriguez, at 6ft 5in, towered over the slightly-built Neymar, but he made no contact with Brazilian in a 19th minute confrontation and the referee did not take kindly to the smaller man’s theatrical response.
Santos v Figueirense
A game which Santos won 2-0. Neymar may have ben their most inspirational player on the night but he received widespread condemnation for his diving. The youngster was shown a yellow card when he fell in the box clutching his knee in supposed agony after brushing against Figueirense defender Americo. Neymar, who picked up a suspension as a result of this yellow card said of the ref: “He took me out of an important game. I didn’t ask for a penalty, I just got pushed over and it hurt. You must have common sense in these situations.”
Santos v Corinthians,
None of the Corinthian Spirit shown by Neymar in this game as he picked up a yellow card for simulation in another 0-0 draw. Corinthians defender Gil pulled out of a challenge he looked certain to make, and with no contact made Neymar went down like a sack of potatoes. The referee was left with little option but to book the sheepish-looking Neymar.
Brazil v Team GB
Neymar was one of the star footballing attractions at the 2012 London Olympics, but in Brazil’s 2-0 win over Stuart Pearce’s Team GB the forward was shown a yellow card for a clear dive in the 32nd minute. Three minutes later, Brazil won a legitimate penalty when Hulk was brought down in the area, and their were still boos audible in the Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough when that man Neymar scored the spot-kick.