Dani Alves leaps to Neymar's defense in wake of criticism
MAR 31, 2014 10:40a ET
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) -- In his first season at Barcelona, there has been no escaping Neymar's public profile through his selfies, tweets and big-money advertising campaigns.
The message on the field hasn't been quite so sustained.
The 22-year-old Brazilian, hyped as the heir to Pele, hasn't made the anticipated impact on European soccer following a blockbuster move from Santos.
The price tag on Neymar's $74 million transfer grew to $138 million because of tax adjustments and bonus money. That cost Barcelona President Sandro Rosell his job and put the Catalan club under investigation for tax fraud, leading to damaging public scrutiny against Neymar and his father-agent.
''I think too much is expected of Neymar,'' said Daniel Alves, a teammate for both Barcelona and Brazil and regular face in the selfies. ''The abnormal thing would be a quick adaptation to European football. Football here is quicker and better organized.
''But the blows against him started with all the talk about the contract. Before that everybody was happy.''
Neymar arrived at Barcelona followed by a repertoire of mesmerizing skills and moves, dazzling goals, and a bright and brash personality. The best paid athlete in Brazil has 10.1 million followers on Twitter and more than 4.3 million on Instragram, where he recently posted photos taken with superstar model Gisele Bundchen for Vogue Magazine.
Neymar was reportedly made the club's highest earner ahead of even four-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi, causing tension in the locker room and increasing expectations for the finicky fans.
There are questions over Neymar's physical condition or if he's being played out of position, but Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino has been quick to squash such talk.
''Neymar may be more comfortable on the left than the right, but Barcelona players are good enough to play in any position,'' Martino said. ''I try to bring all the players together in the best way. Neymar is comfortable playing in any three of the attacking positions.''
The public discussion over his contract and a reported $55 million of the transfer going straight into his father's bank account has had an effect. Neymar attacked critics on social media earlier this year.
''If you are not concentrated at this level, then you need to find the way because we are at a crucial moment in the season,'' Alves said before Tuesday's Champions League quarterfinal against Atletico Madrid.
''Mentally, he seems fine to me, motivated. When people start talking stupidities about your father, it's normal to get upset. But to be a football player you have to separate your personal life and your work.''
In his first season at Barcelona, Neymar has 14 goals in 35 appearances.
''Every day you have to show people more, every game you have to show what you can bring. If not, you get left behind,'' Alves said. ''Only the best are remembered.''