Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - 'Neymar haters': Brazilian political divide spills over to World Cup

'Neymar haters': Brazilian political divide spills over to World Cup

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Brazilian football star Neymar is a divisive figure even in his homeland. AFP

'Neymar haters': Brazilian political divide spills over to World Cup

Normally, it would be horrible news to football fans anywhere that their team's star player was injured.

But even as they endured an anguished wait for a Neymar-less Brazil to score in their 1-0 win over Switzerland Monday, some Brazilians found it hard to miss the injured superstar, who has promised to dedicate his first World Cup goal to far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.

Watching the match in a packed bar in central Rio de Janeiro, where fans decked out in yellow and green waited nervously for what turned out to be the lone goal – scored in the 83rd minute, by Casemiro – 23-year-old law student Henrique Melo explained his dilemma.

As a football fan, he desperately wanted Neymar back from the ankle injury that sidelined him late in Brazil's 2-0 win over Serbia Thursday, in which the Paris Saint-Germain star sparkled despite failing to find the goal.

"The team are missing him," Melo said, proudly sporting the football-mad nation's jersey.

At the same time, the fact that the world's most expensive footballer has yet to score in the tournament "is the best result Brazil's had in the World Cup", he joked.

"We would have had all these Bolsonaro supporters celebrating," said Melo, a proud supporter of leftist president-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

"As a player, Neymar's incredible – he's an artist. As a person, he leaves a lot to be desired. Not just his political opinions, but who he is.

"Instead of just enjoying his bling lifestyle, he could be investing in education, social projects, setting an example for kids ... He could be the man."

On Rio's iconic Copacabana beach, where a huge crowd watched the match on a giant screen, 29-year-old vendor Tainara Santana was feeling the same quandary.

"I like football, so I want [Neymar] to play because he's good. But I can't say I'm sad he hasn't scored. It's great to see Neymar fail," she laughed.

With his lean good looks and huge social media following, Neymar is one of the biggest names in sports.

But his footballing magic has been tarnished at times.

On the pitch, critics accuse the 30-year-old Paris Saint-Germain star of diving and of failing to live up to the hype when it counts.

Off the pitch, he has faced accusations of excessive partying, tax fraud and spoiled behaviour.

"He's a jerk," Santana said. "Not just for his politics, but because of his machismo, his ego, his total lack of humility."

'How low have we sunk?'

Brazil's campaign for a record-extending sixth World Cup comes on the heels of its divisive elections last month.

Neymar endorsed Bolsonaro against Lula – and became the target of an army of "Neymar haters" online.

At the weekend, "F– Neymar" became one of the top trending topics in Brazil on Twitter.

Brazilian football legend Ronaldo rushed to Neymar's defense Sunday.

"You're f–ing Neymar! Giant!" the two-time World Cup winner wrote on Instagram Sunday.

"That's why you have to deal with so much envy and evil, to the point of people celebrating your injury. How low have we sunk?" he said, urging Neymar to "use that hate as fuel".

Teammates Casemiro and Raphinha also stuck up for Neymar, saying he didn't deserve the shade he was getting on social media.

Brazil have struggled in the past without Neymar – notably enduring the shame of their 7-1 elimination by Germany on home soil in the 2014 World Cup semi-finals after their talisman suffered a back injury.

In Copacabana, Lula supporter Charleo Luis just wanted to keep politics and football separate.

Neymar haters "are idiots who know nothing about football", said the 24-year-old street vendor.

"Who cares if he supports Bolsonaro? He's a great player. I'm a huge fan, I love him. I'm rooting for him to recover."

The World Cup, he added, "is a time for us to cheer like one big family".

MOST VIEWED

  • Research key to Kanitha’s rep for expertise

    Sok Kanitha is used to weighing in on controversial issues using a confident approach that signals expertise and authority, and a recent video she made was no exception. Her “Episode 342: The History of NATO” video went live on January 16, 2023 and immediately shot to 30,000 likes and 3,500

  • Cambodia maintains 'Kun Khmer' stance despite Thailand’s boycott threat

    Cambodia has taken the position that it will use the term "Kun Khmer" to refer to the sport of kickboxing at the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, and has removed the term Muay from all references to the sport. Despite strong reactions from the Thai

  • Knockout! Kun Khmer replaces ‘Muay’ for Phnom Penh Games

    Cambodia has decided to officially remove the word Muay from the programme of the 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games 2023 in May. “Kun Khmer” will instead be used to represent the Southeast Asian sport of kickboxing, in accordance with the wishes of the Cambodian people. Vath

  • Artificial insemination takes herd from 7 to 700

    Some farms breed local cows or even import bulls from a broad for the purpose of breeding heavier livestock for meat production. One Tbong Khnum farmer has found a more efficient way. Hout Leang employs artificial insemination to fertilise local cows. Thanks to imported “straws”

  • Chinese group tours return to Cambodia starting Feb 6

    Cambodia is among 20 countries selected by Beijing for a pilot programme allowing travel agencies to provide international group tours as well as flight and hotel packages to Chinese citizens, following a three-year ban. As the days tick down until the programme kicks off on February 6,

  • Capital-Poipet express rail project making headway

    The preliminary results of a feasibility study to upgrade the Phnom Penh-Poipet railway into Cambodia’s first express railway indicate that the project would cost more than $4 billion and would take around four years to complete. The study was carried out by China Road and