Chelsea have been all over Neymar for months now. Despite the appearance of a happy ship at Santos just weeks ago, it hasn't taken long for the wheels to come off. At the centre of the storm? We'll let Jack Lang explain.
Santos last night sacked coach Dorival Júnior, the coach who guided them to the Campeonato Paulista and Copa do Brasil titles this year. The dismissal comes in the wake of a brief but telling conflict with one of the team's star players, striker Neymar, recently the subject of a failed transfer bid from Chelsea. The youngster aimed a volley of abuse at Dorival in the wake of the victory over Atlético Goianiense last week, an attack thought to have been provoked by the manager's decision to transfer penalty duties from Neymar to fellow forward Marcel. Dorival subsequently left Neymar out of the draw with Guarani, and was planning to extend the punishment to include tonight's derby clash with Corinthians.
The club's director of football, however, revealed that the punishment laid down by Dorival was not endorsed by the club's hierarchy; "this was not Dorival's decision to take," said Pedro Luis Nunes Conceição, "his behaviour changed and left us astonished." The conflict of opinion lead to Santos officials deciding to end the coach's reign at the Vila Belmiro. São Paulo are reportedly interested in appointing the 48-year-old.
The above statement from Conceição does not begin to disguise the idiocy of Santos' decision. Dorival, as well as leading the Peixe to two trophies in the past nine months, has been the catalyst of a wave of positivity surrounding the club, who have achieved success with a thoroughly attacking brand of football. Dorival has also, until recent events, been instrumental in the development of the latest batch of Santos youngsters, including Paulo Henrique Ganso, André, Alan Patrick, and the Chelsea coveted Neymar himself.
Dorival Júnior, I would argue, was entirely in the right regarding recent events. A coach ought to have the final say on disciplinary matters within his squad, and there could be little doubt that Neymar was due a reality check. The youngster has, since signing a new deal with the Peixe a few weeks ago, become the subject of some debate in Brazil. In order to resist Chelsea's overtures, Santos handed Neymar an astronomical contract (by Brazilian standards, at least), making him the best-paid player at the club by a considerable distance. Since then, the 18-year-old has frequently displayed petulance on the field, although he is admittedly provoked by his opponents' bully tactics. Off the field, despite pleas by his father to the contrary, Neymar's ego (which, in truth, was never insignificant) is reported to have swelled to dangerous levels.
The blame for the fiasco, however, should not be laid solely at the feet of the young striker. The media attention on Neymar has been intense ever since he burst onto the scene a couple of years ago, and can only have inflated the player's sense of self-importance. Atlético Goianiense coach René Simões last week claimed that the country was "creating a monster," and there is a great deal of truth to this; one could argue that Neymar is turning into precisely the kind of character that the Brazilian media craves and nurtures. Santos' decision, in this context, is not only cruel in the short term to Dorival, but may well prove counter-productive in the development of one of Brazil's best prospects.
In ripping apart a successful and popular managerial regime just to ensure Neymar plays in the next few games, Santos have demonstrated themselves to be willing to bend at the youngster's very whim. Who wouldn't develop an ego in such a situation? The sacking of Dorival Júnior stands as a sad indictment of the shortsightedness and short-termism of Brazilian football today. How long before Chelsea come knocking?
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