In Good Conscience

Bloody football could do with a large dose of common sense

Blood flows in a World Cup qualifier, and Brazil's new coach tells the victim - Neymar - that he must learn to turn the other cheek.

A new England manager, Gareth Southgate, is ordained, and starts off with a statement of such studied calm that others rush to remind us that Southgate can also be as nasty as it takes to succeed.

Football, we know, is between the devil and the deep. It will remain so until someone, somehow finds ways to temper its license to print money without breaking every rule in the book.

First, it's pleasing to report that Brazil is closer now to "The Beautiful Game" than at any time since Tele Santana led the national team back in 1982.

Santana's "Selecao" did not then possess a Pele, but it has someone now, from the same Santos club where Pele began.

Alas, Neymar Jr, aged 24, is not as grown up as Pele had to be to win his first World Cup at 17.

Brazil's Neymar is helped by Bolivia goalkeeper Carlos Lampe after Yasmani Duk leaves the forward with blood pouring from his head.
Brazil’s Neymar is helped by Bolivia goalkeeper Carlos Lampe after Yasmani Duk leaves the forward with blood pouring from his head. PHOTO: REUTERS

Tite, the sensible fellow who has taken over from the dull Dunga as Brazil's head coach, has liberated attacking instincts that Dunga smothered in negativity. And Tite acknowledges that pandering to Neymar is no way to control him.

The Neymar we see is too quick to showboat, and too quick- tempered, too petulant, which makes him susceptible to self- punishment through yellow cards.

Neymar on Thursday scored his 49th Brazil goal, putting him fourth on the country's all-time list below Pele (77 goals), Ronaldo (62) and Romario (55).

He is one ahead of Zico, from a comparative number of starts in the Brazil shirt - Zico finished on 71 caps, Neymar has 73.

But Neymar, having led Brazil to the Olympic title in August, now needs to stand tall for Barcelona when Lionel Messi is injured, and needs to finish more games than he does for his country.

He is targeted by ruthless opponents, as all the great players tended to be. On Thursday, as Brazil hammered Bolivia 5-0, Neymar was the first scorer, he set up two others, and he had to be substituted after an hour when an opponent, Yasmani Duk, used an elbow to blood his face above the right eye.

Duk is not in Neymar's class as a player, and never will be. The Bolivian, now 28, is on loan with New York Cosmos. Neymar plays for Barcelona.

But even before Neymar ran into Duk's deliberately raised elbow, he was body checked by another Bolivian Edward Zenteno, Neymar was booked for belligerence.

The Colombian referee afforded him no protection whatsoever, indeed did not even blow for fouls on either of the martial arts blows perpetrated upon him.

Yet Neymar is now banned from the next qualifier, away to Venezuela.

This means that Neymar will miss four of Brazil's 10 qualifiers in the process.

Tite, the sensible fellow who has taken over from the dull Dunga as Brazil's head coach, has liberated attacking instincts that Dunga smothered in negativity. And Tite acknowledges that pandering to Neymar is no way to control him.

Dunga made Neymar captain and saviour, his only concession to star play.

Tite took the captaincy away, or at least the certainty of it. And, after three games, three wins and a great deal of uplift to the fans who despaired of Dunga's Brazil, the new coach did not duck the issue of discipline.

"There were mistakes from the referee," Tite said. "There was an excess of fouls derived from a lack of punishment. We - Neymar and me - need maturity to understand that we'll have to bear these kinds of situations."

Bolivia fouled to provoke Neymar, to get inside his skin. He reacted and was booked.

"You can say the fouls are from them and it's the referee's problem," Tite told reporters. "It's my responsibility as a manager to guide the player. It is inhumane to put everything on Neymar."

Well said, Tite, and well managed. We have a chance now to enjoy Brazil again.

And England? Southgate has four games to impress the FA to give him the role they so ineptly and so hastily gave to Sam Allardyce.

Martin Glenn, the new FA chief executive, should have learnt that appointing an England manager requires rather more savvy than selling a packet of crisps, which was one of Glenn's former roles as a marketing man.

Maybe, just maybe, the solution will be found in-house. Southgate was there anyway, coaching the Under-21s, some of whom like Tottenham's Dele Alli were stepping up anyway to the seniors.

But while Alli, Marcus Rashford, John Stones et al are decent prospects, none of them has the God-given talents of Neymar. Nor, hopefully, the errant gene that sometimes persuades him to attempt to get his retaliation in first.

We can imagine what Southgate had in mind when he said last week: "There are lots about the industry of football that I don't like, but it's a sport that I love."

He had the good sense not to elaborate on that. The implosion of Allardyce has yet to unravel, and we cannot yet judge whether he was an idiot engaging his mouth without using his head, or in fact open to corruption.

Southgate was appointed because he was "Johnny on the Spot", possibly the only man on the FA payroll able to step into the breach. Also because of his reputation for being squeaky clean, for preferring the game to industry that permeates it. No sooner had Southgate spoken than a player from his past chimed in.

"Gareth's a good guy," said Roy Keane, the former Manchester United hard man. "I remember he tried to break my leg in a Cup semi-final."

Keane settled that score on the field in 1995 by stamping down with his studs into Southgate's chest as he lay grounded - for which Keane was red-carded.

"To be around the game for as long as he has been," Keane said this week, "he must have that streak in him."

He paused, smiled, then added: "Obviously not as nasty as me!"

In a curious way, Southgate might almost welcome the "nasty streak" connotation.

Why? Because the game, the industry, is so riddled with doubt that "nice guys" can manage in it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2016, with the headline 'Bloody football could do with a large dose of common sense'. Print Edition | Subscribe