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28th Jan 2022

Netflix’s Neymar: The documentary that tells you nothing you didn’t know already

Reuben Pinder

Fame isn’t healthy, but we knew that already

There are only two reasons that would compel you to watch a documentary on Neymar. Either you want to reaffirm your belief that he is a prima donna who values the brand over the footballer, or you want to dispel this myth, and contextualise his undeniable flaws within an environment of fame that would be unhealthy for anyone. And whichever side of the fence you sit on, Neymar: The Perfect Chaos serves its purpose.

How would you start a documentary about Neymar? Perhaps with a compilation of his most impressive feats on the field, highlighting his spectacular natural talent. Perhaps with a series of photographs and videos of him partying in Rio De Janeiro during the season, to demonstrate the lack of professionalism that arguably prevents him from reaching his full potential?

Neymar’s preference, as he explains in the opening scene, would be to open with: “All the quotes… from news articles, quotes about my behaviour, judging me. People calling me a monster, this and that. Have some quotes pop up, go through them, people shaming me, and then… they’d meet me.”

Credit where it’s due, the creators of this documentary do not make much effort to hide their intentions. It is clear from the opening that this three-part series has been put together with the sole intention of washing his image; presenting the opposing side of the argument, explaining the many things that make Neymar who he is, and who he has become.

And there are numerous acknowledgements of the human flaws in his character; video footage of René Simões, a rival coach back in 2010, criticising his conduct. “I’ve rarely seen such an impolite athlete,” he said.

“Teach him some manners or we’re creating a monster.”

His father admits he is difficult to manage.

But for all the introspection, it is far outweighed by carefully curated footage of Neymar the Family Man, Neymar the Local Hero, Neymar apologising for lashing out at opponents, Neymar helping to carry a heavy box up the stairs before pranking his son with a disappointing birthday present.

This is nothing surprising. Modern sporting documentaries have increasingly become sanitised puff pieces, blurring the lines of PR and journalism, culminating in a predictable product.

And yet, there is still an element of his story, albeit told from the perspective of his family, that does garner sympathy for the multi-millionaire with a staff of 215 people working to protect his image.

Being expected to lead the world’s most football mad country to World Cup glory on your own is not healthy. Nor is being compared to Pelé – previously the greatest Brazilian to ever kick a football – as a teenager. Nor is being hounded by herds of screaming people every time you get out a car. To really hammer home the point, you are shown a clip of a superfan who got Neymar’s name tattooed on the inside of their lip. Neymar-mania is real, whether you think it’s justified or not.

But we knew this already, and we are all aware of the problems that stratospheric level of fame can create for anyone, young or old. So while this might be an enjoyable watch for those of us who like a window into what goes on beyond closed doors in the lives of elite athletes, it does not teach you anything you didn’t already know.

There are illuminating sequences showing protests in Brazil during the World Cup hosted there in 2014, which only increased the pressure on Neymar to deliver. A heartfelt recollection of his spinal injury against Colombia might elicit an emotional response from some. Reliving the comeback he inspired against PSG, and then hearing the various takes on his subsequent world record move to Paris, is somewhat interesting. Arguments with Neymar Sr about his influence on his son’s life give it a sense of honesty.

But if you are a seasoned football fan, you don’t come away from the viewing experience feeling that you have really learned anything new. Maybe it’s not for me, maybe its target audience are the fair weather fans who know of him, but little else. They might get a rich experience, despite its warped objectivity, like many of us did while watching The Last Dance.

But for those of us who have followed Neymar’s career since the beginning and been exposed to the ubiquitous coverage of his career and his personal life, there’s not much to learn.

Whoever you thought Neymar was before, is exactly who you will think he is afterwards.