I recall the first time I saw Neymar play. I mean a full game, not YouTube highlights. Santos won, Neymar scored (as expected; like rain, or tax), but then I thought he wasn’t worth the hype. He’d served up some flicks and treats to add to his swelling highlight reels, but I told fellow viewers “this one will become another Robinho”.

Neymar of Santos
17-year-old Neymar of Santos celebrates his goal against Penarol during their Copa Libertadores second leg final, June 22, 2011. His goal helped them win their first continental title since 1987.

At 16, he became one of the most hyped teenagers in the world; he and Ganso. When the latter lost his way – that hurt me, because I believed more in Ganso than Neymar – I thought it was just a matter of time before Neymar followed suit. He’d get caught in a big-money-big-club move that’ll wreck his career. Well, I’m glad to say it doesn’t look like that’s ever going to happen.

Fast-forward to 2013. Neymar moves to Barcelona, to a football culture that suits his style of play. Teaming up with one of the greatest footballer of our lifetime – yeah, including those who saw Puskas, Guiseppe Meazza, Pele, Maradona & Cryuff in the flesh – one can’t help but think the lad didn’t want to task himself. Small boy mentality, my sceptical mind continued to think. And Brazil continued to struggle with him in the side, as captain no less. It did seem like Neymar was destined to be one of those very good players who’d never be great. Again, I am happy to be wrong on that count.

Neymar Jr.

Let’s get one thing straight: I am not a fan of Neymar. But as a football enthusiast (and one who thinks he can play himself), it is a difficult position to take. Hard because it’d be delusional not to acknowledge how he’s matured, how his game has grown, how becoming Brazil’s skipper has improved his leadership skills and how he’s added assists to his goals in devastating fashion.

It is difficult to write him off – given that he’s only 24 and he’s yet to reach his peak – from the list of the world’s greats. But then again, it is easy to not like Neymar. Especially if you are on the receiving end of his braggadocios and cavalier playing style. You will loath Neymar when every time you defend against him, he ghosts past you like you did not exist. You surely won’t like someone who, in spite of your best efforts to close him down, makes your best defenders look like Sunday league players. It is therefore easy, very easy in fact, to see that style of play as – yeah, we’ve heard it so much – disrespectful.

Disrespectful? When you can’t stop him, in a football game, when it’s his job to get the better of you? I laugh. Why do people never call Robinho disrespectful? Or Denilson? Or even the great Ronaldinho Gaucho? I don’t remember Oliver Kahn calling Jay Jay Okocha disrespectful after THAT goal (oh, and Olly Kahn recently said he’s still dazed by that goal in a tweet). So when players and pundits call Neymar disrespectful, I just want to tell them to STHU and grow some BALLS!

Neymar oozes so much class we all sometimes forget he’s only 24. He is surely miles ahead of the competition.

Neymar will win the Ballon D’Or one day; it’s now a case of when, not if. All those players and pundits calling him disrespectful and asking him to change his game forget that this greatness that we’re privileged to watch is only great BECAUSE he is ‘disrespectful’. Take that swagger and confidence out of his game, and what you’ll get may be worse than (not Arsenal’s) Denilson. So those calling him disrespectful have two options: find a way to stop him, or shut up! Better yet, acknowledge that it is them who are being disrespectful to the growth of the game by trying to stop his shine.

Article By: Tommy Solomon, @SouloSkillz