Diego Simeone has defended Neymar over recent criticism of the Barcelona forward’s “provocative” showboating, ahead of Atletico Madrid’s trip to Camp Nou in La Liga on Wednesday.
Neymar, 24, angered Leganes players with moves they considered over the top during Barca’s 5-1 win on Saturday and has come in for criticism, including from ex-Blaugrana player Michael Laudrup.
The Brazil international has also clashed with Atletico players for the same reason in past meetings, including Fernando Torres and Gabi who were upset by showboating on the ball during a Copa del Rey tie in January 2015. Right-back Juanfran also said this week he would not behave in such a way.
Speaking at a news conference, Colchoneros coach Simeone said Neymar had his own way of living his life and playing his football, and the important thing was he could hurt teams with his play.
“Neymar is an extraordinary player,” Simeone said. “He won the Olympic Games after being criticised in Brazil after the two first games. He has found in Barcelona the right place to express his talent. Everyone has their own style and their own way of playing. He has been criticised, even in his personal life. He enjoys himself, sings, dances… and destroys teams. They can keep criticising him, the kid responds where he must respond.”
In his five years at Atletico, Simeone has twice knocked Barcelona out of the Champions League, and won the 2013-14 La Liga title on the final day by drawing 1-1 at the Camp Nou, but his team has never actually been victorious over 90 minutes at the Catalan club’s ground.
“If we did not win, it was because we did not deserve it over the 90 minutes,” Simeone said. “There was a draw in the Champions League, and the game with [Radamel] Falcao where we scored first but ended up beaten 4-1. Over the course of the games they have been better. I still think they are the [best team in the world]. They play brilliant football, individually and collectively they can make the difference. Even if they did not win the Champions League last year.”
Barca coach Luis Enrique has shuffled his team through recent games, playing a three-man defence at Leganes, but Simeone said he expected a full-strength side with the game decided by which team was more efficient in the penalty box.
“They always have their identity and their football,” he said. “They will have Mascherano in the centre, and all their usual players. Sergi Roberto on the right gives them more options in attack. The rest will be the same. More than in midfield, the game will be decided in the areas. They have a tremendous offensive power. If we defend well, we will have our chances. The middle of the pitch is for transitions.”
Simeone also again pushed the candidacy of Atletico forward Antoine Griezmann for the 2016 Ballon d’Or, with L’Equipe having also come out in favour of the France international on Tuesday morning for the prize which this year will again be chosen by journalists after the relationship with FIFA ended.
“You journalists have the chance in your hands for justice to be done,” he said. “I hope Griezmann is among those chosen. He had an enormous season and has begun this one strongly. We got criticised when he came from Real Sociedad for not playing him on the wing. We put him as second striker and he has grown a lot, progressed so much. The other day we saw him doing his defensive work too. I hope he keeps this ambition.”