Football players constantly state that victory can only be achieved by teamwork. The way in which that victory is celebrated, however, is a very individual thing, as the emotions on display tend to depend on the player’s personality and past experiences. Following their FIFA World Club Cup Japan 2015 triumph on Sunday, Barcelona’s players all reacted in distinct ways as they received their winners’ medals.
To understand the great joy visible on the face of Neymar, it is crucial to wind the clock back four years. In December 2011, the skilful forward was part of the Santos side that, as South American champions, earned its place at the global tournament.
Prior to the final, where they were to face Barcelona, the media built it up as duel between the Brazilian and Lionel Messi. However, instead of creating a tight contest, Santos fell to a comprehensive 4-0 defeat, during which Messi scored a brace and Neymar put in a somewhat anonymous performance.
“They were so much better than us,” the then 19-year-old admitted to FIFA.com. “They gave us a footballing lesson.” One image in particular made its way around the world after the match, that of Neymar exchanging a few words with Messi and Pep Guardiola. While the exact details of that conversation may never be known, could it be that La Pulga was advising his now team-mate to join him in Catalonia as soon as possible?
By the following year, Neymar had put pen to paper with the Blaugrana and would soon begin to amass a considerable number of prestigious trophies, the latest of which was held aloft on Sunday in Japan. “Today, I’m on the other side of the fence, and I’m glad about that. I’m very happy to be a world champion,” he said to FIFA.com.
Isolation and concentration
His obvious delight contrasted with the contained joy exhibited by Javier Mascherano in the corridors of International Stadium Yokohama after the match. But rather than demonstrating nonchalance about his team’s victory, the robust defender was struggling with conflicting emotions.
“This final was a difficult one for me to deal with,” explained the San Lorenzo native, who turned professional with River Plate in 2003. “I came through the ranks with them, and they’re from my home country. Unfortunately, in situations like that you just have to cut yourself off. I tried to be as professional as I could about it. I don’t know if it was the right thing to do, but I have to think about the team that I currently represent.”
Proof of this approach came when fans of Los Millonarios, who had travelled in large numbers and noisily supported their heroes throughout the encounter, cheered his name when the teams were presented to the public. The Barcelona stalwart decided to keep a low profile and held back from recognising the Argentinian contingent.
“Maybe they took it badly, but I didn’t mean anything disrespectful by it,” he said. “Ever since I found out that we would be facing River, I’ve tried to shut myself away from everything and stay completely focused on the task at hand.”
And that he certainly did, repelling the Argentinians’ attacks and marshalling a defence that performed superbly in front of an on-song Claudio Bravo, even if the Catalans were willing to admit that River made life tough for them at times.
“River’s commitment and pressure caused us a few problems during the first 35 minutes, until we got the breakthrough,” said the Argentinian, who starred for his nation in the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ Final. “It wasn’t easy, but we knew that they would fight hard, and it was that style of play that got them to this level in the first place.”
Unfortunately for the South American giants, their battling qualities were not sufficient against an on-form Barcelona, driven forward by their highly effective and harmonious attacking triumvirate. Messi struck first and Luis Suarez added a brace, while Neymar contributed two assists.
“I don’t know if we’re the best frontline in football history, but we’ve got a great understanding and we’re in the process of making history,” said Neymar, responding to a question that is often brought up by fans of the beautiful game. “But 150 goals is certainly not something to be sniffed at. We’re playing some great stuff and we’re delighted to be doing so.”
That happiness is clearly shared by every player in the Barcelona squad. “Getting to this stage involves putting in a huge amount of work and achieving important objectives. We’ve managed to cap off this year in the best way possible,” concluded Mascherano with understandable self-control and the hint of a winning smile.