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Defenders should stop kicking Neymar just because he clowned them

Neymar is injured once again because soccer, like the world at large, is full of men who can’t handle public embarrassment.

Paris Saint-Germain v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Group C Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Hello! Welcome to another Tactically Naive, the football/soccer column that thinks you’re looking absolutely lovely today.

Sticks and stones

Neymar is injured again. It seems that this happened because Neymar got kicked, again. And it appears that the kicking, in turn, may have been due to Neymar’s happy/unhappy habit of doing amazing things with a football. At defenders. Again.

At least, that’s what the manager of PSG’s midweek opponents Strasbourg seems to think. After the game, Thierry Laurey explained to the press that:

There are moments when, if you go over the limit a little bit, you have to expect that you are going to get a kick or two. I didn’t ask my players to go and kick Neymar, but I understand why the players had had enough of someone who was looking to tease and taunt them a bit.

You have to hand it to Neymar. He may never make it to his promised place in the pantheon, alongside Pelé and Maradona and the rest, but when it comes to exposing the strange, tangled, macho mess that sits in the heart of elite men’s football, he’s the greatest there has ever been.

As Laurey explains, and he seems to be accurate, what’s going on is a kind of improvised justice. An eye for an eye; violence for violence. For a rainbow kick is an assault of a kind: not on the body but on reputation. On the unfortunate victim’s good name and standing in the community. And football admires and celebrates them as such. That man has a family! gasps Twitter, every time somebody is unfortunate enough to get nutmegged on television.

Almost every human being that has ever existed has lacked Neymar’s skill with a football, and the clod-hopping defenders of Ligue 1 are no exception. This means they aren’t equipped to respond in kind, which is a shame, really, since football could do with more emergent dance offs.

Instead, they kick him. This isn’t the only reason they kick him, of course. Sometimes it’s as an early warning, sometimes it’s because they’re having a bad day, and sometimes because it’s easier than, y’know, actually tackling the slippery so-and-so.

But some of the kicks are, as Laurey suggests, kicks of retribution. The problem is the violence inflicted by Neymar’s rainbow kicks is entirely non-physical, whereas that which he receives is manifestly real. A defender may feel justified in lashing out after PSG’s superstars leave him in broken pieces on the floor, but it’s rare to miss a month of football with a fractured metaphoricatarsal.

Of course, from a broad historical angle, Neymar has it easy. Defenders were once permitted to tackle from behind, at knee height, using a wide range of rusted farm implements, and referees would stand by and applaud.

Yet it’s interesting that even as the rules of the game have become more protective of the delicately skilled, that transaction — an actual-eye for a notional-eye — has endured. We may never be free of these vengeful, spiteful tackles until we divorce the idea of being beaten on the pitch by a piece of skill from that of being humiliated in public by a cheeky bastard who needs taking down a peg or two.

Safe to say we’re not there yet. The world, inside football and out, is still full of prickly men. And as a result, that same world has to get through a month without Neymar, which sounds kind of boring. Worse, we won’t get to see the brilliant Brazilian running at Phil Jones, which is utterly heartbreaking.

Big Alan’s little Alan

Time for a spot of Choose Your Own Adventure: English Football Style.

You are the owner of a football club in England. Let’s call them … Cotts Nounty. Your club is the oldest member of the football league, but things are going badly wrong. After losing out in the promotion playoffs last season, you’re now stuck at the very bottom of League Two. You’re six points behind the team in 23rd, nine points from safety, you’ve got a goal difference of minus-30, and you’re on your third manager of the campaign.

As if to make matters worse, a national newspaper has just published a column by their lead football writer about you and your club. It is not flattering. It includes one source commenting, “If there was ever a lesson to be learned about how not to run a football club this was it”. And it also touches on your pugnacious, not to say embarrassing, social media habits. Apparently you’ve been tweeting. Never tweet.

Anyway, what do you do?

  1. Delete your social media posts and spend the rest of the season fully focused on the business of getting the football club into some kind of shape, either to escape or survive relegation.
  2. Change nothing! You are still right about everything, and the universe will eventually fall in line.
  3. Accidentally post a picture of your own penis on Twitter.

If you chose Option 3 then, congratulations! You are Alan Hardy, a.k.a. Big Alan, a.k.a. Everybody Knows Just How Big, Alan. You are the real-life owner of the real-life Notts County, your proud and admirable football club is in a whole lot of trouble, and the FA want to have a word with you about that picture you just posted.

Hardy has since apologised and deleted the picture, though not his account. He has also put the club up for sale, though he insists that “the events which have unfolded in the media this weekend” did not affect this decision. Stop giggling at “unfolded”. There are many salutary lessons to be learned from the whole episode, but the two most important are probably:

  1. Running a football club is really difficult, and you can’t just proclaim yourself to be amazing and have it come true.
  2. Never tweet.