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- There is a clear difference between Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar when it comes to one critical aspect of high-stakes soccer.
- While the Juventus FC striker thrives under pressure, it is a situation that buckles Neymar according to a research group.
- Neymar’s decision-making is questionable as the Paris Saint-Germain forward relies on his "individual talent" when a pass to a teammate would have been a simpler, more effective option.
- Read all of Business Insider’s coverage for the 2018-2019 soccer season right here.
An elite athlete who has clutch is able to remain calm during high-pressure moments in a high-stakes match.
This can prove to be the difference between a pass that yields an assist, or one that gets intercepted by an opponent. It can mean the difference between a shot that is fired into the goal, or one that flies over the bar and into the reaches of a fan in the crowd. It can be what separates the winners from the losers.
Novak Djokovic is the ultimate clutch player in tennis right now, Steph Curry is a fearless shooter when he has the ball in his hands, and Cristiano Ronaldo has an elite mentality when the ball is at his feet.
But there is one soccer player who has questionable clutch according to a sports research group, and that athlete is Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar.
A study conducted by Belgian university KU Leuven researchers Jesse Davis and Pieter Robberechts, in collaboration with intelligence company SciSports, says Ronaldo is "immune" to the sort of pressure that Neymar crumbles under and that the PSG forward "chokes under stress."
Davis and Robberechts analyzed approximately 7,000 matches in seven competitions to determine how athletes in professional soccer perform in clutch situations, and will present their research in full at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston on March 1.
The KU Leuven graph below shows Cristiano Ronaldo is largely unfazed regardless of whether there’s pressure or no pressure when it comes to decision-making or execution. Meanwhile, Neymar’s decision-making is poor under pressure.
"Mental pressure has already been extensively studied in sports such as baseball and basketball, but in football this is uncharted territory," Professor Davis of the Department of Computer Science said.
"That’s why we have developed a model that uses machine learning to estimate how much mental pressure is experienced by the player in possession of the ball. The model analyzes how this player performs under pressure: which decision does he make, is the chosen action executed well, and how much impact does the chosen action have on the outcome of the match?"
Neymar ‘chokes under stress’
The research note adds that Ronaldo’s "performances are constant." This is in stark contrast to Neymar who "seems to choke under stress. He makes poorer decisions when there’s a lot of pressure."
Speaking exclusively to BI, Davis added: "Our research suggests that when under pressure, Neymar may fall back on his individual talent to make a play. For example, he takes more speculative shots or tries to take on a defender by dribbling, whereas passing to a teammate would be a better choice."
KU Leuven said the research is important because of the impact it can have within the soccer industry. The learnings would benefit coaches and decision-makers alike, for example, when determining whether to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on an athlete. A clutch player would likely be worth the money, but a player who buckles under the pressure like Neymar, who is linked with a big-money move to Real Madrid, may not be worth the investment.
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