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7 Mar, 2022 16:02

Football legend voices fears for Neymar, Messi

Thierry Henry said Neymar needs help and Messi has suffered an 'emotional shock'
Football legend voices fears for Neymar, Messi

France football legend Thierry Henry has claimed that Lionel Messi suffered an "emotional shock" when he joined Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona and said that the Argentina captain's teammate, Brazil striker Neymar, is "asking for help".

Ex-Arsenal ace Henry knows Messi well from their highly successful spell at Barcelona together during the late 2000s under manager Pep Guardiola, when they won an unprecedented sextuple. 

After Henry headed to the US in 2010, Messi only departed in August 2021, when he tearfully left his boyhood club because the Catalans could not navigate a strict Liga salary cap to offer him a new deal in the summer.

According to Henry, that exit may have had an impact on Messi and his form at his new club – and he is also concerned about Neymar.

"When you analyze a move and he [Neymar] didn’t track back – OK, it’s a fact and it has to be said," Henry told French newspaper L'Equipe, which has given Messi ratings of three and four out of 10 for some of his performances this season.

"Yes, he’s playing a bit less well, but there are reasons for that. Neymar’s often spoken in his recent interviews about his well-being, about the pressure.

"So my first question was, 'is he alright?' It wasn’t about him not doing nutmegs, sombreros [overhead or rainbow flicks], or not accelerating anymore.

"He speaks but are we hearing him? He’s asking for help – there are things going on in his head, as with any human.

"When we speak of Messi or Neymar, who are exceptional players, we too often forget that aspect.

"When Lionel cried [upon] leaving Barcelona, that wasn’t part of the plan. When you think you’re never going to leave a place and all of a sudden you do, it creates an emotional shock.

"People say, 'he’s fine, he’s got everything he needs in Paris', but it’s not that simple.

"When I left Arsenal for Barcelona, I needed a year to feel good. I arrived there with an injury, in a period of divorce. I [had] to learn a new system, you mix all of that together and it plays on the mental side of things."

Neymar has been open about his struggles. "I joke with my friends that I'll retire when I'm 32 years old," he told MARCA in February.

"But it's just a joke. I don't know. Honestly, I'll play until I'm mentally tired. If my mental health is okay and my body is too... physically, I think I'll still last a few years.

"But my mental health is the most important thing. My contract with PSG will last until I'm 34 years old. So I'll be playing until then at least."

Henry described talking about personal issues as "completely taboo" and "a lot harder" during his playing career.

"I don’t know how people react if a footballer starting talking like that at the end of a game, explaining that he wasn’t doing well mentally.

"Even within the squad. You’d show up and be asked, “how are you?”, and you’d respond 'good' even if things weren’t going well.

“Did you sleep well?”, 'yes', even if it wasn’t the case. “Are you hurt?”, 'no', even if you were in pain.

"Nowadays, players can open up more. But if you say, 'mentally, I wasn’t doing well', it can come back to haunt you in an away games.

"What are opposing fans going to chant when you’re taking a throw-in or when you arrive at the stadium? 'Oh, that guy was scared last week.' It’s not easy to open every door and for people to read who you are.

"Crying was impossible. You couldn’t show your weaknesses. It was like, 'Thierry – don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.'

"I sometimes cried alone but I was fighting to keep it together. Nowadays I do cry.

"Nowadays, when someone opens up on a sensitive topic, we can no longer turn away and reject what they’re saying.

"Everyone likes it when you say you’re good. Why would it be bad to see you’re not doing well in your head?

"It won’t stop you from being judged on your game. When [tennis player Naomi] Osaka spoke out [about mental health challneges], it didn’t shock me.

"My reaction was, 'ah, I understand'. Beforehand, for me, being able to share your faults was a weakness.

"These days, I think being vulnerable is a strength. When you free yourself of something which has been weighing on you for a long time, you feel light, you run quicker, you sleep better, you eat better."

Neymar and Messi face Real Madrid in a Champions League round of 16 second leg match on Wednesday. Paris begin the game at the Bernabeu 1-0 ahead from the first leg.