Neymar injury proved we should not always think footballers are play-acting

Neymar's tears were for real

Neymar's tears were for real

First published in Sport

DO not be confused by the modern-day histrionics – professional footballers are brave.

Granted, the majority seem to throw themselves to the floor at every available opportunity, pulling off three triple salkos and a back flip at the slightest contact.

You may also feel cheated at the sight of players making Lazarus-style recoveries minutes after thumping the floor in frustration while beckoning to the bench – their match seemingly over.

In many ways, they have been hoisted by their own petards – the sporting equivalent of the boy who cried wolf.

When Neymar went down after a cynical yet seemingly innocuous knee in the back from Columbian opponent Juan Zuniga, I wonder how many television viewers shook their heads at his anguished cry of pain.

It could easily have been just another one for the cameras, his way of venting frustration after being targeted for special treatment throughout the match – although marginally less than the punishment Brazil meted out to their rivals’ star man James Rodriguez.

As a hardened football spectator, I find myself suspending my belief until I see the tell-tale sign of a team-mate – better still an opponent – circling their hands, appealing to the bench for a stretcher.

It is the game’s equivalent of a slice across the throat, a-la Greg Dyke when England were drawn in the same World Cup group as Italy, Uruguay and the fearsome Costa Rica.

In footballers’ defence, however, I have to say I think all of these factors have led to the viewing public becoming desensitised to the dangers inherent in the sport.

Watching on television or even in packed, sprawling arenas minimises the feeling of risk.

It is only when Neymar is reduced to tears in a press conference, contemplating the possibility he could have been paralysed rather than simply left with a broken back, that you realise what kind of guts it takes for every single player to cross that white line.

I’m reminded of pictures of Luc Nilis’ leg virtually snapped in two or Peter Schmeichel throwing up on the Old Trafford pitch after witnessing the horror injury sustained by Coventry’s David Busst.

These kinds of injuries happen time and again. Every club will have a sorry tale of a potential world beater cut down before reaching his prime.

Stuart Holden is a pretty good case in point. How much further could USA have gone in the World Cup with a fully fit and fired up Holden in their team?

The reality is that any footballer has to be brave to take to the field and even braver to come back from serious injury.

Neymar will have to face those demons at some point soon and I for one wish him a speedy recovery.

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