Neymar Doesn’t Speak French; Who Cares?

Is it disrespectful if Neymar Jr. doesn’t learn to speak French while playing for Paris Saint-Germain? Several ESPN FC contributors discussed the subject in the video below and just to warn you, it’s pretty cringeworthy.

The conversation stems from a report in L’Equipe about the languages spoken in the Paris Saint-Germain locker room. French football writer Jeremy Smith summarised and translated the most pertinent parts via Twitter:

And just a little more background before we get into my thoughts on the matter. When new sporting director Leonardo returned to the club, he told the team, “I am going to speak to you in French. If some of you don’t understand me, all you have to do is take lessons.” Presumably, he was aiming his comments at Neymar who Marquinhos had previously stated has difficulty speaking French. Leonardo’s comments came right in the thick of the Neymar transfer saga to FC Barcelona, so it’s understandable he would be a bit abrasive towards Neymar and test whether or not he wanted to stay under his regime.

Now, back to the ESPN FC commentary. Frank Leboeuf is first up to answer the question on whether or not Neymar is being disrespectful for not learning French:

I think it’s respecting the country and the people that you meet. You come to their country you have to accept to start speaking another language.—Frank Leboeuf

The reality television star goes on to compare Neymar to other Brazilians who have played for PSG and made the blanket statement that they learned to speak French after a couple of months and that Neymar is the first not to do so. He concludes by saying it’s not normal and it’s disrespectful towards the French citizens, the French language, and the culture that they have.

PSG Talk‘s favorite expert, Craig Burley who once called PSG fans a “touchy bunch,” is next up and he doesn’t disappoint:

I think it’s rude and ignorant if you don’t [speak the language of the country in which you play].—Craig Burley

Shaka Hislop wraps up the debate by piling on and making the absurd claim that Neymar not learning French proves that he was never committed to the PSG project and just wanted to make a lot of money quickly.

When you join a club, almost regardless of language, you have an obligation not to just that club but to the fanbase and community and if you go to a club in a country that speaks a different language from you I think similarly you owe it to that club and community to learn the language. If you don’t, it shows that you have no intentions of being there for the longterm. You had no real intention, in the case of Neymar, of being a part of this project certainly not in the longterm for PSG. You were there to pick up a whole lot of money in a very quick space of time and move on.—Shaka Hislop

Credit to the host, Sebastian Salazar, for pushing back on some of these statements but he was shouted down by his guests whose quotes wouldn’t look out of place at a Donald Trump campaign rally. It’s almost as if they’ve run out of things to criticize Neymar for. He’s been nothing but professional since returning to PSG and scored two game-winning goals despite some rough treatment from the Ultras. So, I guess the producers at ESPN FC had to resort to picking on his ability to learn a new language. Whatever gets views, right guys?

First of all, go down PSG’s roster and count the number of French players in the squad. I counted nine, including Kylian Mbappé, out of 29 players. Then, look at Neymar’s stats at PSG since arriving from Barcelona. Even in limited time due to injuries, the Brazilian has racked up some impressive numbers including 23 total goals and 13 assists in 28 games last season. The season before that he scored 28 times and recorded 16 assists in 30 games. Imagine if he spoke French though. I’m sure he would have had a better connection with Angel Di Maria (Argentina), Edinson Cavani (Uruguay), Marco Verratti (Italian), and Thiago Silva (Brazil) and doubled those numbers. All joking aside, it’s obvious that Neymar is a world-class footballer and the only thing that can stop him is his flimsy ankle, not the French language.

At age 48, Burley is the youngest of the three commentators. They are footballers from a past generation and you almost can’t blame them for thinking the way they do, especially Burley and Hislop who only ever played in English-speaking countries (England, Scotland, United States), which is their native language. England is where Burley, Hislop, and Leboeuf played most of their professional football and it’s interesting to hear them take this position regarding Neymar due to the fact that England is notorious for producing many footballers who won’t even entertain playing abroad due to fear of having to learn a new language:

Maybe the main explanation for the scarcity of English football exports to Europe lies in something simple: a fear of learning foreign languages. This is something ingrained into the English psyche from a young age, where very few youngsters embrace learning another language and then, in later years, see it as a largely futile practice given the widespread general assumption that pretty much everybody already speaks English.—The Guardian

Moving on from the English bias, I find it comical that Hislop believes that Neymar came to PSG to make a quick buck and leave. He is aware that Neymar was doing quite well for himself at Barcelona, right? It’s not like he came to PSG so that he could get endorsement deals that he couldn’t get before. He came to PSG to get out from Lionel Messi’s shadow and lead a team on his own. Unfortunately, injuries have halted that plan but you never know, this season could be different.

It’s very easy to stand on your soapbox and bemoan Neymar for not learning to speak French, but has anyone ever thought that maybe it’s a difficult language to learn and that maybe with Neymar’s extensive schedule and responsibilities that he just doesn’t have the time to devote to learning a new language? I’d be curious to know how many different languages Hislop and Burley speak. They work for ESPN, the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” covering a global game. Should they not have to learn multiple languages so that they can interview players using their native language?

Let’s pretend Neymar did speak French for a second just for fun. What changes? I guess he would be able to read all of the criticism published about him in the French newspapers and answer questions from journalists who want to twist his words around. What actual benefit does learning French do for Neymar other than appeasing these three commentators who are inching very close to the xenophobia line with their comments? It’s 2019 and people work in countries where they may not speak the preferred language. Most reasonable people are OK with that and don’t make sweeping generalizations about their intent.

I guess there is one positive from Neymar learning French. Maybe then he could explain to Ligue 1 refs why an opponent deserves to be sent off when they ruthlessly kick you from behind for no reason other than being better at football in every conceivable way.

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Tags Angel Di Maria Edinson Cavani Marco Verratti Marquinhos media Neymar Thiago Silva