Neymar’s footballing year from hell goes from bad to worse with Copa America K.O.

Buda Mendes
The PSG forward suffered yet another setback when he injured his ankle just days before the competition kicked off in Brazil

It took just 21 minutes for Neymar's dreams of lifting the Copa America on home soil to go up in smoke. 

The Paris Saint-Germain star embarked on a trademark mazy run in the middle of the field as Brazil sharpened up against fellow Copa challengers Qatar. But he was not alone. Assim Madibo was in close pursuit, and when the two players tangled Neymar landed heavily on his left ankle and was forced to seek medical attention. 

It was his final contribution to a routine 2-0 victory for the hosts in Brasilia, and after leaving the stadium on crutches the inevitable was confirmed. Brazil's medics subsequently revealed a torn ankle ligament, an injury which will leave him laid up for the duration of the competition and ended his participation before it had even begun. 

It is the latest blow for a player who, thanks in part to injuries and in part to his own failures in judgement, has seen his career threaten to tailspin since the start of 2018, when he appeared to have the football world at his feet. 

While Neymar's star remains undimmed, practically every major story to break around the 27-year-old over the last 18 months has taken on a negative slant. Following his messy disengagement from Barcelona to join PSG – a world record transfer designed to make the French club challengers in the Champions League – two almost identical foot injuries in 2018 and 2019 mean that he is yet to play a part in the final stages of the much-desired European competition. 

The scandals, meanwhile, have not let up in the slightest due to his injury woes. In last year's World Cup Neymar hit the headlines more for his theatrics than his talents, going down time and time again under the most minimum contact to become a figure of fun, a pantomime villain mocked by fans and media alike. 

Neymar Brazil Qatar Friendly 05062019

Fast forward to March and he was once again facing censure after inviting referees to “Go f*** yourselves” following a contentious late VAR decision that sent PSG out of the Champions League against Manchester United. Even when back on the field, Neymar seemed unable to control himself, culminating in a shocking episode where he aimed a punch at a fan in the aftermath of his side's Coupe de France final defeat. 

A pattern is emerging of a world famous, immensely wealthy young man who seems unable to properly channel natural feelings of frustration within football in a mature, healthy manner. While Tite stopped short of confirming as much, the coach's decision to strip his charge of the captaincy speaks volumes of his doubts over Neymar's ability to handle responsibility. 

“I spoke to Neymar, I explained it to him and then to Dani, first by phone and then in person,” the coach explained to reporters. 

“Neymar is an extraordinary player and we have a very personal relationship. Our relationship is very open and truthful. I'm not going to judge in this case because Neymar has always been very loyal to me.” 

Tite quote GFX

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Off the pitch, Neymar is currently being investigated following the publication of rape allegations against him. The player has categorically denied the accusation, which are currently being investigated in Sao Paulo after an official complaint was filed with police concerning an alleged incident in Paris. 

Brazil have stood by their former captain from the moment the allegations first broke, never placing in doubt his presence at this Copa America. That decision has ultimately been taken out of their hands by Neymar's hurt ankle. 

And while there are clearly more important things in Neymar’s life right now, from a footballing point of view it has been a nightmare past 18 months for the Brazil star. As Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – fresh from a stunning hat-trick on Tuesday for Portugal - continue to set the standard, the man labelled their natural heir is failing to live up to his sky-high potential.