In an interview with DAZN, Neymar said the 2022 World Cup would “probably” be his last, explaining that he felt too weak mentally. A statement that worries Brazil, where every Ney speech is scrutinized, dissected and amplified. In the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Neymar only harvests benevolence.

Kaua is 13 years old. He wears a vintage Paris Saint-Germain jersey and eats an ice cream his father just bought him at a take-out fast food restaurant. After having dug a trench, he will carefully search for the bottom of the ice cream with his small plastic spoon and draw a ” obviously ! ” when asked if he saw Neymar’s statements in the DAZN documentary. Her response is like that of any disturbed teenager eating ice cream. Any teenager who doesn’t like their star to be touched too. “For me, if he stops, it’s because too many people criticize him, that’s why he plays less well too. ” Mental health ? Kaua doesn’t have much to say about it, he’s just sad, sad that Neymar is stopping. “He’s a player that I love. ” The father, Marcello, also ice cream in hand, intervenes. “It’s really speculation, he believes, calm and peaceful like the Largo do Machado, a district in the south of Rio de Janeiro, the scene of the family stroll. The facts are that Neymar is in a privileged position, but he can’t stand people talking about anything other than his performance on the pitch. And I think he’s not wrong. ”

The support of Thiago Silva

In France, Neymar’s statements not only brought mental health issues to the fore in football, but they also sparked backlash. Imagine then in Brazil, where the smallest picture of the Ney can trigger a national controversy. Especially since the very evening of the publication of the interview granted to DAZN, Brazil and Neymar traveled to Colombia for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers. A good match is worth all the interviews in the world. But rather than calm the fire, the trip to Barranquilla, carnival town (the 3e world after Rio and Venice), instead threw liters of overpriced diesel on the flames.

“We cannot say that Neymar has a deep problem linked to the mental domain. It is normal, even rather healthy, to plan your professional life. ” Dr Paulo Ribeiro, employed by the club of Botafogo

In short, Neymar was bad. Slow, uninspired (it happens), but also technically imprecise (it happens less). The timing coincidence was fortuitous – the interview was several weeks old – but the conclusions easy to predict. “Neymar worries on and off the field”, headlines after the match in the newspaper Globe. On TNT Sports, a banner scrolls at the bottom of the screen: “Neymar’s declaration: an alert on the pressure he is under? “We are worried about the prodigy of Mogi das Cruzes, and quickly Thiago Silva in person comes to validate the concerns. On Instagram, he writes: “If you need someone who is strong for you, know that I will always be there.” ” At the same time, the captain of the Selection request in press conference of the “Tranquility and consistency” . For this, you have to turn to a professional, Dr Paulo Ribeiro, football psychologist, specialist in neuroscience, employee of the Botafogo club: “We cannot say that Neymar has a deep problem linked to the mental domain. It is normal, even rather healthy, to plan your professional life. By doing this, he tries above all to avoid additional psychological wear and tear. ”

Psychology gets into people’s heads

But the Brazilian media making little use of psychological expertise, Internet users improvise Freudinho. The subject goes viral, but for a little criticism, Neymar mostly receives a mixture of benevolence and concern. “I wonder if he is still happy on the pitch” , “We must not forget that he has more pressure than 99% of the players” , “He’s lost his will, he’s literally depressed. ” In the street too, opinions differ, but everyone has one. Isabel, 46, Flamengo tracksuit on the back: “It’s confused this story, we don’t know how serious it is. Does he have depression problems? ” Further on, Luis, seated with his half past eleven: “Neymar is old anyway, he’s not a good player anymore. But hey, I think it’s not cinema, mental problems exist. ” Overall, therefore, Brazilians seem sensitive to the issue. A Simone Biles / Naomi Osaka effect, two whistleblowers on the subject? “More like a Covid effect, responds very seriously Marcello, our father who has soon finished his ice cream. Almost everyone has lived locked up, without the right to go out, we all had more or less morale; mental health is a global issue now. ” By Dr Paulo Ribeiro, “Mental health problems are starting to attract attention precisely because top athletes in Brazil are talking about them, whereas before, an athlete who was pouring out was weak and vulnerable” .

Nilmar on the couch

Among these athletes recently on the couch, the former Lyonnais Nilmar spoke to TNT Sports last month : “It took me a long time to accept the depression, to realize that there was no reason, that it was chemical. In the world I lived in, people would laugh at you if you talked about it. I was ashamed. ” A shame all the greater when you come from a poor background. The “you did it, you can’t complain” still exists in a country where, according to a recent study, 20 million Brazilians do not eat every day. But it is not because a people elects a retrograde president that it is in their image. Mentalities are changing, and if Nilmar spoke, it was also within the framework of “Yellow September”, a month devoted to the prevention of suicide, and therefore of depression. Moreover, according to Dr. Ribeiro, Brazilian clubs employ more sports psychologists every year. A sign, again, that the issue is taken seriously. The reactions of the Brazilians are clear: no matter where Neymar is currently, he is not alone.

By Alexandre Berthaud, in Rio de Janeiro

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