KEIR RADNEDGE in MOSCOW —- Neymar takes no notice of media or fans’ criticism of his play-acting antics. So perhaps he might pay attention – for his own sake and that of Brazil and Paris Saint-Germain – to a far greater attacking predecessor.
Marco van Basten scored 24 goals in 58 internationals for Holland with whom he not only won the 1988 European Championship but volleyed one of the most memorable of international goals in the final defeat of the Soviet Union. He also racked up 277 goals in a prize-winning club decade with Ajax and Milan.
But it was in his capacity as world federation FIFA’s chief technical development officer that Van Basten delivered advice specifically directed at Neymar in a World Cup briefing from the old coaches who make up the ‘technical study group’.
Neymar was laughed out of Russia following Brazil’s quarter-final defeat at the hands of Belgium because of his propensity to fall over every time the wind blew and roll about as around as if testing the qualities of a new mattress.
The 26-year-old has scored 57 goals in 90 games for Brazil, whom he captained to Olympic gold medal success in 2016, and boasts 269 goals in 10 years worth 17 major trophies with Santos, Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain.
But he could also achieve respect should he but heed Van Basten.
Asked about Neymar’s theatrical propensities, Van Basten said: “This is not a good attitude. You have to try to do your best and if you act too much everybody understands. It will not help you and he should understand his situation.”
The first signs of the waning powers of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo offered he prospect of a vacancy at the pinnacle of the individual game. But Neymar will not be ascending to that throne this year at least.
Van Basten would not name contenders for the golden ball at these finals but he dropped a strong hint when he identified the essential qualities of “somebody who can make the difference with his talent, physicality, mental strength, ability to guide a game, to be a captain.”
On that basis Croatia’s Luka Modric must be favourite unless Van Basten’s technical study group – veteran Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira, Nigerian Emmanuel Amunike, man-of-the-world Bora Milutinovic and Scot Andy Roxburgh – are persuaded of a better candidate.
The panel were agreed that winning the World Cup – or even putting up a decent show at the finals – demanded development, structure, organisation and talent.
Van Basten, who is known to have progressive personal ideas about how to improve football, would not be drawn on issues such as ‘real playing time’ to eliminate time-wasting or other possible changes to the laws of the game.
These, he said, were “subjects for later” though he did express a concern about the manner in which improved defensive organisation reduced goal opportunities from open play.
Van Basten said: “In some games it has been very difficult for the No9 to get the ball and influence the game because the defending was so tight in the penalty box there was no space to get even a possibility of a goal.”