Not since Cassius Marcellus Coolidge’s famous canine painting has an image of a poker game elicited such a rabid reaction. On Sunday, while Paris Saint-Germain was curb-stomping their rivals at the Parc des Princes and clinching the Ligue 1 title, Neymar Jr. posted an Instagram Story of him playing online poker with the game on television in the background. The post seemed innocent enough. I really didn’t think twice about it when I saw it because I’m often folding laundry, stuffing my face with food or responding to trolls on Twitter while watching a match. The football police latched onto the Brazilian’s post and have used it as ammunition to attack the recovering superstar maliciously.
Before we get into my personal thoughts on the matter, allow me to make one point. For years, nearly every pundit with a platform criticized Ligue 1 for being inferior and claimed that it was far too easy for PSG to win–even though they didn’t win it last year but who needs facts, right? All that matters to the “experts” is how well PSG does in the UEFA Champions League and a league title isn’t even worth discussing much less celebrating. Now that they know Neymar wasn’t in Paris for the match against AS Monaco on Sunday and was playing poker instead, all of a sudden that game is of the utmost importance to them and how dare Neymar not risk his health by boarding a transatlantic flight to be with his teammates. Hypocrisy at its finest, folks.
If you’ve been following PSG this season this sort of media coverage is nothing new. Neymar left Spanish darlings FC Barcelona for the evil empire that is PSG last summer and ever since his unveiling, it’s been one ridiculous storyline after another–mostly to generate clicks because we all know Neymar news certainly does that. After successful foot surgery in early March, I assumed we would have a relatively quiet end to the season. The club had all but clinched Ligue 1, won the Coupe de la Ligue, and were out of the Champions League in the Round of 16. With only the Coupe de France to play for essentially, PSG Talk contributor Marc Damon and I were already looking ahead to FIFA World Cup plans for the site. This poker post changed all of that. Is it really worth all the fuss though? Let’s examine closer:
— Julien Froment (@JulienFroment) April 15, 2018
At first glance, I hate to tell you all this but what we have here is a typical millennial. Neymar is playing poker, a favorite pastime of his, with the PSG match on in the background. Pretty much everyone 35-years-old and under does this. Neymar also appears to be a PC man, so I expect this image lit up all the Mac forums with basement dwellers calling him a n00b or something. Other than that, there’s not much else you can take away from the image. Now, let’s get to the implied meaning that so many pundits are having fun with this week:
The match was 4-0 after 28 minutes and Monaco was never really a threat. Like, not even a little bit. In fact, Monaco has attempted to reimburse their traveling supporters because the performance was so bad. I run a PSG fan site for crying out loud and even I wanted to fast-forward the final 20 minutes or so to the final whistle so the celebrations could start. Neymar’s photo reminded his critics that A. He wasn’t in Paris and B. He wasn’t fully engaged in the match. To the football purists–who already despise PSG because of their “oil money”–this storyline was too delicious to ignore.
In one camp, you have those who expected Neymar to be in Paris watching from the stands. When all they got was Neymar Sr., they raged. From passive aggressive messages about his absence to those who went on national television and cried about how he shouldn’t be in Brazil rehabbing in the first place, it’s been a hilarious shitshow. First of all, Neymar is a top three player in the world. He can have his surgery and rehab wherever the hell he wants. He chose his native country and PSG signed off on it. I have no issues there, unlike Christophe Dugarry who believes Neymar “spat” on the club by not risking his health and flying to Paris. This guy actually receives a paycheck for talking about football.
Neymar clearly didn't think it was worth his time tonight to be at the Parc des Princes to witness PSG win the Ligue 1 title…
— Get French Football (@GFFN) April 15, 2018
Neymar is currently recovering from foot surgery and as someone who flew across the United States shortly after a serious leg injury, I will tell you that it is one of the worst things you can do. Upon landing, my legged swelled like a balloon, turned black and blue, and there was a real concern that blood clots could develop. I have to believe that Neymar’s doctors, some of the best in the world, advised him to not jump on a plane and fly from Brazil to France until he was fully healed. With the World Cup on the horizon, this is not a time to take a chance simply to watch a game from the stands. His dad was there and that should be good enough for Dugarry and everyone else.
The other complaint is that Neymar shouldn’t have been playing poker during the game. We’ve already been over the circumstances of the game and how it was basically over after a half hour. Seriously though, if you’re mad about this what would you prefer instead? Do you want Neymar to take copious notes during the game? Have one of those Clockwork Orange devices on his head so he can’t blink during the full 90 minutes? No, what they want is for him to be quiet, behave “the right way” and stay off of social media. I was thinking about conceding the fact that he probably shouldn’t have posted anything during the match but last time I checked, he’s free to do what he wants. If PSG wants to have a social media policy that restricts this kind of behavior I’m sure they would–especially after the Serge Aurier incident not so long ago.
More than anything, those who are upset about Neymar’s poker playing in Brazil need to realize he is in a completely different stratosphere than nearly every other player in the world. He is not held to the same standards as Benjamin Stambouli was when he was here. Neymar is a mega-superstar, a global brand if you will, and oh, he’s pretty damn good at football. Special players get to play by different rules. That is the way life works. You know how your boss gets to take off early on Friday while you and your coworkers have to stay and finish up until 5 p.m.? Yeah, it’s basically the same thing. Does this mean that Neymar is bigger than PSG? Of course not but this is a mutually beneficial partnership. Neymar’s talent awards him certain liberties and the hope is that when he’s healthy, he will return the favor by leading PSG to a Champions League trophy while increasing the club’s profile around the world.