Neymar can do anything and everything on the football pitch. But against Switzerland, he just wasn’t allowed to.

Neymar draws players to himself. Every opposition coach knows that if the Brazilian is allowed to run free, he will cause havoc and they all attempt to put a leash on him. Switzerland did that by asking Valon Behrami to be his shadow at all times and then as soon Neymar would get the ball in the final third, three to four players would be onto him in a flash.

On Sunday, movement with the ball was a luxury for Neymar.

But then, this is the fate of the legends. From Pele to Johan Cryuff; from Lionel Messi to Ronaldo and everyone else in between. The opposition knows they are good and will do everything in their power to stop them. The greats don’t have it easy. They never do.

Watching the systematic hacking down of Neymar also brought back memories of the manner in which European teams had worked out a strategy to stop Pele during the 1966 World Cup. It wasn’t so much a football strategy as it was a war plan.

Pele was kicked so much in the first game against Bulgaria that he could play no part in the second. It also caused the Brazil coach to say, “I think every team will take care of him in the same manner.” Partly because the refereeing seemed biased and partly because Pele was not allowed to impact the game at all.

The second game was a 3-1 defeat against Hungary when Brazil had two goals disallowed, and then in the third, he was cynically brought down again and again out by Portugal’s Joao Morais. After being carried from the Goodison Park pitch that day, Pele threatened to quit the game.


“When I first came back to Brazil after the World Cup games of 1966, my heart wasn’t in playing football,” Pele later said. “The games had been a revelation to me in their unsportsmanlike conduct and weak refereeing. England won the games that year but in my opinion she did not have the best team in the field.”

On another occasion, he said that in 1966 “football stopped being an art, stopped drawing the crowds by its skills, instead it became an actual war”.

But the physical nature of the match was not the sole reason for Brazil’s defeat. Pele knew that and said it in his autobiography as well.

Come 1970, he assembled a crew of bodyguards and they had a new tactic too. Under Mario Zagalo, they came up with a very fluid system which allowed Pele, Tostao and others to run rampant. No player in Brazil’s attacking quartet, bar Jairzinho, had a defined position. It made them difficult to mark but it was also a system that relied on the innate football intelligence of these players. They didn’t need to be told, they just knew.

From Pele to Neymar

Neymar is such an influence in this Brazilian team that after the Switzerland game, the current coach might be tempted to repeat the words of his predecessor from 1966: “I think every team will take care of him in the same manner.”

Or, they will at least try.

Before the game, Switzerland captain Lichtsteiner said, “Well, I believe it is practically impossible to completely neutralise Neymar over 90 minutes.d he’s probably the best and most complete in that position in the world.”

But as the game unfolded, Neymar was harassed, he was harried, he was knocked down and he spent huge swathes of the match on the ground. He just wasn’t allowed to build up any rhythm. When he did have the ball, the No 10 attempted to do it all on his own. Often, trying to take on two or even three players.


Defensive midfielder Valon Behrami was the man picked to be Neymar’s shadow and he did a brilliant job. It also didn’t help the Brazilians that the Swiss kept the ball well and did not give it away cheaply.

As the game neared it’s end, Neymar got increasingly desperate. But even at that point, they just weren’t using all the talent at their disposal. The Swiss crowded the middle of the park but Neymar and Co kept attempting to break through exactly that area.

This Brazilian squad has more than enough top quality talent, but Neymar is undoubtedly the heart of this team. You stop him and you stop Brazil. The game against Switzerland – despite Coutinho’s wonderful goal – proved that.

Brazil were at their best when they moved the ball at pace. But too often, they seemed more interested in wanting to put on a show than in scoring a goal. As good as Coutinho was, he also will need to take the pressure off Neymar, who still needs a game or two to get back to 100%.

If more creative threats emerge, opponents will not be able to focus solely on Neymar and that is when we’ll see him and Brazil at their absolute best. The World Cup is just beginning but a change has to be made now.