Neymar can put his PSG woes behind him to lead Brazil to glory at Copa America on home soil, says Tim Vickery
FRIDAY is the day when Brazil’s coach will have to stop running.
In the last couple of weeks, when he has attended local matches, Tite has made a point of making his exit early.
This is not just to beat the traffic. It is to avoid a question that he knows is coming; what will he do with Neymar?
Last year winger Douglas Costa was caught spitting at an opponent while playing for Juventus.
Tite left him out of the next Brazil squad, and made it clear that this was a punishment for a lapse of behaviour.
And then, just after the French cup final as the players made their way up the steps, Neymar snaked out an arm at an annoying fan. Will he suffer a similar punishment?
Well, it is one thing to leave Douglas Costa out of a couple of low key friendlies. It is another thing entirely to drop Neymar from the next Brazil squad.
He is the captain of a team about to take part in a Copa America on home soil.
The pressure will be on. Brazil have had problems playing the World Cup in front of their own fans.
But they have a 100% record in the Copa America, winning the tournament on all four occasions that they have been hosts.
And coach Tite’s job is on the line. Anything less than victory and Brazil will almost certainly be looking for a new coach.
It is almost certain, then, that on Friday when Tite reads out the names of the Copa America squad, Neymar’s name will be included.
It is possible that he might be stripped of the captaincy – although the most probable outcome is that things will stay as they are. And that might be the best thing for all concerned.
With problems mounting up at PSG – he is also banned for the next three Champions League games after attacking the officials on social media when the club were eliminated by Manchester United – a show of support at national team level might come as a welcome relief.
But if Tite backs his captain in public, in private he should take every opportunity to get his message across.
At 27, Neymar should by now have outgrown his outbursts of adolescent petulance.
The team will under enough pressure. They cannot afford him picking up another suspension.
Living up to the expectations of their own fans clearly proved too much for Brazil, then coached by Luiz Felipe Scolari, in the 2014 World Cup.
EXPERIENCE IS KEY
The need to cope with the emotional strains of a home tournament could well encourage Tite to bring back some experienced names to his squad.
Ever since Russia 2018 he has wanted to recall Fernandinho.
But the Manchester City midfielder has been reluctant, bruised by being picked out by some of the public as the fall guy for last year’s quarter final defeat to Belgium.
He missed the closing stages of City’s triumphant league campaign with an injury, but should have recovered in time for the Copa.
It will be fascinating to see if his name is included – and that of Daniel Alves, the veteran right back who is seen as an important influence on Neymar, and who may still have a part to play, especially as Tite is looking for his full backs to construct from deep rather than fly up the flank like auxiliary wingers.
Then there is the centre forward problem that has plagued the team for some time.
In recent months the first choice has been Roberto Firmino. But this has not proved a success.
Brazil have so far not been able to knit his virtues into the team – and with Firmino busy on Champions League duty until June 1st, Tite may decide to explore some other options. All will be revealed on Friday.
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