Barcelona and Brazil sensation Neymar has revealed that he turned down a big-money move to Chelsea in 2010 - with a little help from football legend Pele. The 22-year-old explains in his new book how he was encouraged to stay put at Santos rather than seal a lucrative transfer to Stamford Bridge by the man widely regarded as the greatest footballer of all time.
Neymar, who was 18 at the time, stayed with Santos for three more years before securing a £45.7 million move to Barcelona last summer. And despite a mixed season at the Camp Nou, the forward has been one of the star performers at this summer’s World Cup finals in his native Brazil.
How Neymar rejected Chelsea
As Neymar explains, in an extract from his new book published by the Daily Mail: "It was August 23, 2010. My father and I had a meeting with president Luis Álvaro at the Santos headquarters, inside the Vila Belmiro.
"Chelsea had made a huge transfer bid. In the middle of our conversation, the president turned off the lights and pointed at an empty chair.
"‘This is the chair of the great national sports hero. Since Ayrton Senna’s death, this chair is vacant. If Neymar Jnr stays in Santos and refuses Chelsea’s proposal, he will give his first step to sit in this chair.’
"That made us think. That decision would be a turning point in my life. Even Pele called me. Can you imagine how important I felt? The King of Football called and asked me to stay.
"He reminded me of his entire career with Santos, his five world titles with the national team and the club, and all the recognition he received. It wasn’t easy but it was the right decision for us. We did the right thing for our family, friends and my career."
Did Neymar make the right decision?
By staying at Santos into his early 20s, Neymar was allowed to flourish in his home country before securing a dream move to Barcelona. A move to Chelsea at such a premature stage in his career could have harmed his development. There have been plenty of examples in the past of South American starlets moving to Europe too early - and paying the price for it.
Neymar, despite flattering to deceive on occasions last season, still ended his first season with the Catalan giants having scored 15 goals in 41 appearances.
And there has been plenty of evidence at the ongoing World Cup to suggest Neymar has improved as a player over the last 12 months.
Should Neymar have joined Chelsea? Have your say in the comments section below - and take a look at this video showing some of his most breathtaking moments for club and country…