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27 Jan, 2022 16:35

‘Neymar: The Perfect Chaos’ – welcome to the world of a football diva in denial

The new Netflix docuseries on the Brazilian football superstar is polished and on-brand, but portrays a personality desperate for you to think he doesn’t care
‘Neymar: The Perfect Chaos’ – welcome to the world of a football diva in denial

Right from the start of ‘Neymar: The Perfect Chaos’ we get a clear indication that this is a man with a chip with on his shoulder.

Asked how he would start the series, Neymar replies that quotes should be shown from people denigrating him in the media for his behavior, shaming him as “a monster” or “a jerk.”

“And then they’d meet me,” laughs the Brazilian.

Across the ensuing three parts of this Netflix docuseries, which credits NBA icon LeBron James as an executive producer, this is exactly what we are meant to do as we gain an insight into Neymar and his life – “the perfect chaos.”

Outside of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, the 29-year-old is the biggest footballer on the planet; a household name boasting a social media following in the hundreds of millions, but someone who continues to captivate and infuriate fans in equal measure.

This is a series which captures the frustrations both of being Neymar and being around Neymar; the most expensive footballer of all time but a figure who lives out life as a man-child trapped in a bizarre bubble.

Born to Neymar Santos Sr and larger-than-life mother Nadine Santos, Neymar Jr had a ball his feet from an early age and soon became a conduit for his father’s own failed footballing dreams.

The first 50-minute episode is devoted to much of those humble beginnings as Neymar takes his talents from the streets and eventually on to Brazilian giants Santos.

Amid grainy footage of his precocious talents, we see a young Neymar telling the camera of his footballing dreams.

“I just stay humble. The one dealing with the clubs talking about me is my dad, my manager,” says a fresh-faced Neymar Jr in throwback footage, already playing the media game despite not being old enough to shave.

We witness how the hard-nosed Neymar Sr takes his son off on trial at Real Madrid at age 14, before leveraging a new deal with Santos back in Brazil – a decision which is presented as being the firm choice of Neymar Jr.

The youngster is propelled to stardom after breaking into the Santos first-team, helping them to a first Copa Libertadores triumph since the days of Pele.

We see more of his stupendous talent as Neymar earns a call-up to the Brazil team and signs sponsorship deals galore, a dizzying ascent as he becomes the great new hope of the football-obsessed South American nation.  

Tellingly, though, we also get a first glimpse of the ‘diva’ tag that has stuck to Neymar throughout his career when a rival coach fears that Brazil is in danger of “creating a monster” after the budding star throws a strop on the pitch.  

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Neymar’s relationship with his homeland is clearly complicated: he is idolized and yet always kept off the pedestal reserved for the likes of Pele. There is a festering sense of irritation at that fact, which is presented merely as more fuel for Neymar to thrive on.  

Neymar’s injury agony on home soil at the 2014 World Cup is focused on in all its hyperbolized drama, with the impression that he was lucky to emerge without being paralyzed. It did at least spare Neymar the humiliation of being part of the team which was massacred by Germany in the semi-final.

Brazil’s Olympic gold medal victory against Germany in Rio de Janeiro two years later – in which Neymar scored the winning penalty – is somewhat neatly painted as redemption for both Neymar and his country. 

More truthfully, the series at least doesn’t shy away from the barrage of mockery that Neymar received for his shameless play-acting at the Russia 2018 World Cup.

“Did I throw myself on the floor without a reason? No, man,” says Neymar unconvincingly in his defense.

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At club level, by the time he has made his way to Barcelona in 2013 the cult of Neymar is already clear – and the series unintentionally highlights just how dodgy Neymar’s array of haircuts and styles has been down the years as he has forged an image as something of an uncaring playboy in stark contrast to the monk-like dedication of Cristiano Ronaldo and preternatural genius of Lionel Messi. 

A tough start to life in Catalonia provides one of the more touching insights as Neymar reveals how he was consoled by Messi after being left in tears in the changing room early on during his time at the Camp Nou giants.

The dynamic with Messi weaves its way through the series, with the Argentine featuring personally at various points – along with the likes of David Beckham – to offer a ringing endorsement of Neymar’s qualities as a footballer and a human being.

Famously, things did click with Messi and Luis Suarez as they won back-to-back Spanish titles and the Champions League crown in 2015. Looking back, the documentary depicts those as halcyon days for Neymar but the titular chaos of the series isn’t far behind.

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One of Neymar’s finest hours in a Barcelona shirt – the ‘Remontada’ against future employers Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League in 2017 – is portrayed as a turning point as Messi gets the glory despite the Brazilian pulling the strings.

His father denies it, but the incident clearly indicates what most people already know – it was a catalyst for Neymar’s desire to free himself from the shadow of Messi in a vainglorious bid to become the true star of the show.

Bankrolled by Qatari petrocash, PSG was the perfect way out as the Parisians obliterated the world transfer record to secure Neymar’s services in 2017. Money is disingenuously denied as being a motive for the move, with the PSG ‘project’ instead being held up as the most exciting attraction.

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But the frustrations of life in Paris are laid bare as Neymar is blighted with injury problems, and the ugly saga of the Brazilian hankering for a move back to Barcelona in the summer of 2019 is hard to avoid.

The documentary doesn’t attempt to swerve it, and features the vicious “son of a b***h” insults dished out by PSG fans to the star number 10 when he emerges for the new season after talks with Barcelona collapse.  

Defiantly, Neymar claims the vitriol only served to motivate him, casually suggesting PSG fans can “f**k their feelings” in a remark that is unlikely to endear him with the Paris faithful, no matter how much water has since passed under the bridges of the River Seine.

The incident encapsulates much of what is at the heart of the series: a protagonist who professes not to care what people think, all the while obsessing over his image and with a brand being judiciously maintained all around him.

It’s a glaring contradiction which is unlikely to be lost on most viewers.

In his private life, Neymar seems far more content with private jets, parties, computer games and scrolling through his phone. Already a father by the age of 19, Neymar comes across as a loving parent but someone unable to snap out of a teenage reverie. The Joker and Batman-themed artwork on the wall of his home indicates this is a man stuck in his own comic book multiverse.

The darker side of his playboy lifestyle is touched on as the series takes a cursory look at the rape allegations made by Brazilian model Najila Trindade against Neymar in 2019 after their encounter in a Paris hotel room.

The case was dropped and Trindade was later charged with attempting to extort the star. The scandal, however, provides the backdrop for one of the most authentic exchanges of the series as Neymar and his father argue over the latter’s protective style.

“Do you know what arrogance is? When you don’t listen,” says Neymar Sr, hitting the nail on the head as he frets over his son’s career.

Neymar Sr is a formidable force, overseeing the empire and managing the army of employees associated with his son. The pair’s relationship appears complex, with even Neymar describing it as more “distant.”

Neymar’s mother, meanwhile, is presented as an eccentrically emotional anchor for the family and – along with infrequently-featured sister Rafaella – is clearly a beloved figure for her son who could easily command a Netflix series of her own.   

Like the most hackneyed of plots, the final act is conceived as one of resurrection and progression to brighter days. 

The onset of the Covid pandemic marks a turning point as Neymar helps PSG into the Champions League quarter-finals with victory over Borussia Dortmund behind closed doors in Paris, before the players celebrate with riotous fans who have been locked out of the stadium.

Neymar is shown escaping to Brazil during the lockdown, asserting that the downtime helped him “to find out that I love football for real.” 

Neymar was central to PSG’s run to a first Champions League final, where they eventually fell short against Bayern Munich. Again, however, it feels mendacious to package it as a tale of reconciliation for the star and the PSG fanbase when he clearly still has some way to go to justify the staggering outlay the club have bestowed upon him.

Before the credits roll for the last time, the series closes out with the news of Neymar’s 2021 contract renewal with PSG, adding that “later that year, Messi reunited with Neymar at PSG.”

Some might read that as an implication that the Argentine was the one who ended up shifting his axis to orbit the Brazilian, rather than the other way round.

But just as with so much else in the chaotic world of Neymar, that would be something of a delusion.

By Liam Tyler 

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.