Neymar: The New Pele Who Rejected Chelsea, Barcelona And Real Madrid
Staying loyal to one club is a rare thing. In modern football it's perhaps even more so. In Brazil though, it's virtually unheard of. Marcos and Rogerio Ceni are possibly the two most high-profile examples of the modern one-club man in the former Portuguese colony, but they're both goalkeepers, and wanting a Brazilian goalkeeper is like pining after a Bulgarian chef or desperately searching for an Egyptian snowboarder.
Neymar da Silva Santos Junior is not a goalkeeper though. After his signing of a three year contract on in November 2011, a contract that ties him to his club Santos Neymar will be spending his career's peak in Brazil.
It is reminiscent of a time half a century ago, when Brazil were in the habit of creating some of the world's greatest footballing talent, and what's more, that generation stayed at home, becoming inextricably linked to one club. Garrincha and Nilton Santos became legends at Botafogo, Tostao had the blue of Cruzeiro running through his veins, a young Rivelino was setting Corinthians alight and of course, Santos had 'O Rei', 'The King': Pele. It was a period in history that will forever be savoured by fans in the football-mad nation; but not purely because they stayed at home, but also for their extraordinary quality.
It is indicative of the new stability that the Brazilian economy has garnered, that they can even contemplate hankering back to that Golden Age. It was not so long ago – as little as five years - that even the slightest glimmer of talent from a young player had them on the first plane to Europe. Michel Bastos moved from Pelotas to Feyenoord when he was just 17 back in 2001. Nilmar moved from Internacional to Lyon at 20. Dani Alves moved to Sevilla from from Bahia at 19. And these are just recent examples. Leonardo to Valencia, Marcio Santos to Bordeaux, Emerson Thome to Academica: all players who moved from Brazil before their 21st birthday.
But with new investment, a rapidly growing economy and inventive ways of enticing players, the sky looks to be the limit for Brazilian football. And that starts with Neymar.
His 46th minute goal against Penarol back in June propelled Santos to their first Copa Libertadores title since 1963. Not since their Pele heyday had Santos won South America's premier football competition, and with the bequiffed 19-year-old spearheading the attack, Sao Paulo's fourth biggest club became Brazil's second most successful.
That continental success, as well as a 19th Paulista State Championship, culminated in Neymar becoming the first player based in South America to be nominated for the Ballon d'Or.
With all of Europe's major clubs, including Real Madrid and Barcelona, sniffing around the 15-time Brazilian international, it was a real coop for Santos, who hope that his performances over the next three years add to his £40m price-tag.
The Santastico have managed to finance the deal through a partnership with Banco do Brasil, who will seek to benefit from Neymar's growing fame in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup. Neymar, already the best-paid player at the Vila Belmiro, stands to benefit from a wage rise of around 50%.
Neymar, wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan "It's good to be the King!" (in English) at Wednesday's press conference, expressed his delight at the deal. "I'm very happy here. I always said I was happy to be near my friends, and now my son. There's no bigger joy than agreeing to stay." His agent, Wagner Ribeiro, echoed these sentiments; "It's great for Santos [to keep] a player that makes the fans so happy."
But with the young international set to become the poster boy for the 2014 tournament, it's yet to be seen how well Neymar copes with the relentless attention.
The last time this happened was with Romario, who was brought home by Flamengo in 1995. Attention on the former Barcelona forward was unrelenting, but one cannot help but think that it pales into insignificance compared to the circus in which Neymar will live for the next three years.
The Santos forward lives in an era of incessant media attention, and an intense diffusion of information and news. Everything he does from now until 2014 will be looked upon and debated over. But, the teenager from Mogi das Cruzes, now has everything he needs to be playing in Brazil at the peak of his career, just like Romario 16 years ago.
The combination of bravado, loyalty and immense talent can turn the youngster into a mythical figure. He may not become as iconic as Pele, but the brash teenager has the opportunity to emulate 'O Rei' and those unforgettable stars of yesteryear.
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