Arturo Vidal and Neymar have potentially cost their teams a chance at victory in Copa América. Do they deserve to be forgiven?


South American football, for better or for worse, has never valued stability. No, it prefers its players to burn red hot for a time, fizzle, and then turn to ash. It’s what has always made the players of this continent so brilliant, so fascinating, and so tragic. Jose Luis Andrade, the Uruguayan who was the first superstar in the sport, was a womanizer who eventually met his end drunk, homeless, and in complete solitude. Garrincha, the crippled boy who mesmerized defenders and spectators alike with his bow-legged dribbling, also drank himself into oblivion. Maradona, the god of Argentina, accepted alms of cocaine, booze, and women in place of salt and bread.

So when Arturo Vidal (nicknamed King Arturo) crashed his Ferrari on Tuesday night while driving under the influence of alcohol, the cycle seemed to be in motion once again. In a video recorded after the incident, Vidal can be heard saying to a police officer, “You can cuff me, but you’ll fuck over all of Chile.” The officer, unimpressed, responds, “If you fucked up, you fucked up.” Reaction varied from disgust at the danger he put both himself and his community in, to shocked disbelief at his stupidity to drink and drive in the middle of a tournament his country is hosting, has never won, and has its best ever chance of doing so.

There was even more outrage the following day, when Chile’s manager Jorge Sampaoli said Vidal would not be suspended from the team. Sampaoli, in defense of his decision to keep Vidal in the squad, said of his best player, “He made a mistake, which is not so serious to exclude him.” When you take into account that Sampaoli suspended midfielder Charles Aranguiz for oversleeping, Sampaoli’s justification that drunk driving was a mistake that needn’t be punished rings hollow.

Not to be outdone, Neymar has also managed to generate controversy in his short time at Copa América. Following Brazil’s 1-0 loss to Colombia, Neymar booted the ball into the back of Colombia’s Pablo Armero, sparking a fracas where Neymar attempted (an admittedly weak) head butt on Jeison Murillo.

Neymar received a straight red card in the aftermath and was subsequently suspended for the remainder of Copa América, potentially ruining the first step on the road to redemption for the Brazilian National Team after its 2014 World Cup catastrophe.

Luckily for Vidal and Neymar, South America has always been very forgiving of the sins of its stars. There has long been a feeling that these rebellious players can be absolved so easily because the same force that produces greatness — hot-headed, tempestuous passion — also seems to lead these players with equal weight into perdition. These moments of failure lift the veil on their talent, and we see them exposed, raw, and, ultimately, human.

They make the same mistakes and the same misjudgments that many of us do, not only because of what they are able to do with a football, but because when we look at them in these exposed, vulnerable moments, we see a part of ourselves staring back.

Vidal and Neymar have both made headlines for brilliant play and stupidity alike. Both have shown the volatility and immaturity so unfortunately associated with great South American players, while also displaying the feats of footballing ability that make us enamored with them in the first place.

Every week we see them score goals, terrorize defenders, make us stand up and cheer, and we know that despite all their faults and all of their sins, we will forgive them, because in the end, we are just as vulnerable as they are.

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