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Defensive PSG goes on offensive over Neymar criticism

February 4, 2019
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FILE - In this photo taken on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, PSG's Neymar receives medical attention on the sidelines during the French Cup soccer match against Strasbourg at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, before limping off with a recurrence of a right-foot injury. It is reported Sunday Feb. 3, 2019, PSG has taken exception to a questionnaire by RTL radio, asking soccer fans if they think Neymar causes his own injury problem with a provocative style of play. Paris Saint-Germain attacking star Neymar is recovering from his third injury in the last 12 months. (AP Photo/FILE)

PARIS (AP) — Paris Saint-Germain is feeling defensive about its attacking star Neymar, who is recovering from his third injury in the last 12 months.

The club took exception to a questionnaire by French broadcaster RTL in which, according to PSG, 78 percent of soccer fans think Neymar causes his own problems with a provocative style of play.

PSG responded by listing several soccer stars — including Pele, Ronaldinho and Zinedine Zidane — and asked if those greats of the game had provoked opponents with the creative way they played. The club gave statistics showing how many times Neymar has been fouled in the French league and in the Champions League — PSG said it was six fouls per game on average in Europe — to underscore its contention that he is unfairly targeted by opposing players.

“We are campaigning for French refereeing to be more protective of Neymar,” the club concluded in an unexpected statement on the weekend.

Neymar limped off during a French Cup win against Strasbourg on Jan. 23 and is expected to be sidelined for about 10 weeks with a fifth metatarsal injury to his right foot, having sustained a similar injury last February.

Rather than show sympathy for Neymar, Strasbourg midfielder Anthony Goncalves and coach Thierry Laurey said the Brazilian attacker lacks humility with the way he showboats on the field. They made comments suggesting his injury was a direct result of this.

Goncalves said of Neymar: “If he wants to have fun, we’ll respond with the weapons we have. We have a jersey to defend. We’re not here for a laugh.”

Laurey was summoned by the French league to explain his comments, and didn’t back down.

“Sometimes when you’ve gone too far, you have to face up to it,” Laurey said. “I’m all for protecting players, but there are limits. When you make a pass that comes off your back, you’re mocking (others) a bit.”

This generated headlines which likely led to RTL’s questionnaire.

While the comments from Strasbourg’s coach and player were excessive — there can be no justification for deliberately targeting a player to hurt him — PSG’s response was selective because there has been heavy criticism of Neymar’s attitude before this season.

Fans, players and former soccer stars criticized Neymar for his overacting on the pitch during last year’s World Cup in Russia , including excessive rolling after being fouled.

Neymar later accepted that some of his reactions had been excessive .

And he pledged to “become a new man” by cutting out some of the antics.

But the showboating has occasionally resurfaced this season, such as when Neymar pretends to kick the ball, only to swipe at thin air and then stand still for a few moments with an opponent in front of him. Neymar has done this in midfield — and not in an attacking position near the penalty area — in what appears to some as an unnecessary gesture.

After Liverpool lost 2-1 at PSG in late November during the Champions League group stage, Liverpool’s coach Juergen Klopp took a swipe at Neymar and other players for perceived playacting.

“There was a little hurdle with the 500,000 interruptions in the second half, and the referee did nothing,” Klopp said. “It was clever of PSG, Neymar — especially him — but a lot of players went down as if it was really serious.”

Observers may point out Neymar’s style is reflective of South American soccer culture, which is famed for its flair and off-the-cuff genius. However, Neymar’s former Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi does not showboat, and the Argentine is clearly as skillful and creative a player as Neymar.

Right at the end of last season’s League Cup semifinal win against Rennes, Neymar went to offer his right hand to an opponent who was on the ground. But he then swiftly withdrew it, and backed away while grinning at the Rennes player.

In his own words, after the World Cup, Neymar said his style of playing “sometimes charms the world, sometimes irritates the whole world.”

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