Fifteen days is an eternity in football. In fact, it’s more than that. Fans gasping for the oxygen required to voice their opinion suck desperately at any pocket of air they can find in order to scratch the itch.
It’s been over two weeks since a ball was kicked in serious anger. Spain’s 4-0 win over Italy in the final of Euro 2012 marked the start of the long, not quite hot, summer when it comes to football.
Sure the Olympic football tournament is coming up and if you’re really that desperate the MLS is on hand to satisfy the most basic of needs but essentially when Juan Mata popped home Spain’s fourth and final goal that was your lot, and there is another month until the Premier League jolts into life.
Inevitably, when an addict is seeking out a fix, the suppliers are always on hand to provide a hit, and this week’s leading football-based dope peddler is right-wing Spanish TV station Intereconomia, who picked a rumour from air so thin it must have been almost impossible to write up. Welcome to silly season.
On the face of it, it seems vaguely plausible. One of the biggest clubs in the world wants one of the best young players in the world. Barcelona, generally agreed to be one of the, if not the, finest club sides of all time want Neymar, the hottest prospect on the planet. For €60 million.
Indeed, it is a well trodden path that stretches from South America to the Catalan club. Ronaldinho, Romario, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Dani Alves have all made their way to Barca, although all five stopped briefly over at a lesser European club before completing their journey.
Perhaps that in itself is enough to demonstrate that Barcelona are unlikely to break their record transfer fee for a player with no European experience, although there is plenty of evidence to suggest the 20-year-old is something quite different and something quite special.
His goal against Flamengo in 2011 was a thing of pure, unadulterated beauty to the point that it was voted better than anything scored that year – better than anything Wayne Rooney or Lionel Messi could muster.
Barely a week goes by without a latest flick or trick worming its way on to YouTube to gushing praise from all corners.
Pele of all people believes Neymar is better than Messi, generally agreed to be the best in the world, with the Brazilian icon claiming the only difference between the pair is ‘experience’ – although the great man does seem to have a particular disliking for the Argentinian who could dislodge him as the greatest of all time.
On face value then, it doesn’t seem so outlandish to claim Barcelona are in the running for Neymar. But is there really any chance of what would be one of the most spectacular transfers coming out of the blue and actually happening this summer?
First off, it is worth remembering that the Neymar to Barcelona rumours are not original, and not new. Last year there were whispers that a deal was done but nothing happened, and before long the talented youngster signed a new deal with Santos that could in theory keep him in Brazil until 2015.
Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean much; any club wanting to sign Neymar was always going to have to pay an astronomical fee but what it does point to is how engrained he is at Santos – a club that has abandoned its futsal and women’s side in order to finance his wage packet and one that has all but abandoned fellow starlet Ganso in order to build a team around their brightest prospect.
The latter, once believed to be the man who could help Brazil to World Cup glory on home soil in 2014, will soon leave Santos having fallen out dramatically with the club’s board. Neymar is by far and away the club’s highest earner, while Ganso, linked with a move to Tottenham and Chelsea, is the second-lowest paid player in the first team.
And therein lies the first stumbling block. Barcelona do not have €60 million to spend on Neymar. They do not have €6 million to spend on Neymar judging by their most recent set of accounts.
For all their grandeur on the pitch Barca have something of a grubby secret off it in as much as they have a mountain of debt building up - €578 million to be exact.
While that figure is somewhat warped by bewilderingly confusing accounting jargon and technicalities the club are far from where they want to be financially and that has had an impact on the pitch.
Last summer Barcelona's vice-president of finance Javier Faus revealed the club had a transfer budget of around €40 million, while also revealing the club’s main focus was on reducing levels of debt. Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez arrived last summer, both costing more than the budget mentioned by Faus but sales of the likes of Bojan Krkic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic meant their net spend was only around €10 million. All indications so far suggest this summer could be a quiet one at the Nou Camp.
Jordi Alba has signed on the dotted line for a bargain €14 million while a new centre-back is required, but aside from that few expect much business to be done this summer.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the deal is the role Neymar’s marketability could play in a transfer, something which could justify such a large fee. It is interesting to note that, despite completely over-shadowing rivals Real Madrid in terms of silverware won in recent years, Barcelona still cannot hold a candle to the revenue generated by Los Blancos, who are the only club in the world to make over £400 million a year.
And what is it that sets Jose Mourinho’s side apart from their rivals? The second generation of Galacticos.
President Florentino Perez appears to have no qualms about forking over mammoth transfer fees for the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Karim Benzema. Together Madrid paid over €180 million for the three and a further €100 million for Xabi Alonso, Angel di Maria, Mesut Ozil and Fabio Coentrao.
Madrid’s approach banks on the marketability of the likes of Ronaldo and Kaka, two of the most popular players in terms of social media it is worth noting, and monetising their popularity. Risky it may be but it appears to be working if their record €135 million in commercial revue for 2010 is anything to go by – while their record breaking media and match day revenue also feeds off the popularity of their stars.
Barcelona are hardly paupers in this region but they haven’t quite exploited the model as Madrid have. Messi is a global figure and helps his club’s profitability like few others could, but it is here the arrival of Neymar makes most sense.
Ranked as the most marketable athlete on the planet by SportsPro, Neymar is already an icon in his home country and has a growing legion of fans around the world. The Brazilian and Barcelona appear a match made in heaven and can service one another's needs - and with the 2014 World Cup in Brazil looming on the horizon, his worth to both club and country looks set to sky rocket.
Interestingly the arrival of Neymar at Barcelona could be facilitated by Nike, the Catalan club’s shirt sponsor. Despite their own galaxy of stars only a few of the high profile players are Nike athletes. In 2006 Messi singed with Adidas while David Villa is also associated with the German brand, as is Xavi. Cesc Fabregas recently ditched Nike to sign with Puma.
Neymar, young talented and with sponsorship deals up to his eyeballs would represent the perfect player to help Barcelona become the greatest side off the pitch as well as on it.
In this respect the fact that club president Sandro Rosell spent six years working with Nike to promote the brand in Brazil will obviously help lubricate the wheels of any deal.
Barcelona aren’t known for astronomic transfer fees like Madrid but the acquisition of Neymar, who makes around £8.5 million a year through sponsorship deals with Unilever, Panasonic and of course Nike, would certainly make long-term sense, and will certainly make them a more attractive proposition to potential investors as well as open up a new market of fans in South America.
The involvement of Banco de Brazil, who currently pay some of Neymar’s wages at Santos, should also open up a few new doors.
Back on the football pitch is where the deal starts to get a little less certain. It was another Brazilian, Ronaldinho, who was forced out of the club in order to make room for Messi to take centre stage and drive the club to glory, and how Neymar fits in with that is unclear.
Would he fit in well with Barca’s well honed style of play? Sanchez, a South America, joined last summer and did well despite injuries, but would Neymar shine if he is not the star of the show and forced to fit into a system rather than have one built around him like he does at Santos?
There would certainly be no usurping Messi, who has just enjoyed the greatest goal scoring season Europe has ever seen. When Santos and Barcelona met at the Club World Cup final in December 2011, there was only one winner between both teams and only one winner between Neymar and Messi. It was 4-0 to Barca and 2-0 to Messi.
There are also suggestions Neymar is a player for the YouTube generation; perfect for short clips but his overall contribution is lacking.
Despite reaching the Copa Librtadores semi-final and winning Sao Paolo’s regional league, the Campeonato Paulista, Santos have struggled in the national league having won just one of their opening nine fixtures.
Neymar has only played three times, scoring twice. He has been accused of going missing for large spells during games. A scorer of easy on the eye goals, sure, but at the moment not a man who can be relied on to win games and make a difference constantly. Then there are doubts over his personality, which has been known to rub team-mates up the wrong way.
With the unassuming Messi and Andres Iniesta on board, that simply isn’t the Barca way.
Despite that there were some suggestions that part of the reason that Pep Guardiola quit as manager at the Nou Camp was in part down to his constant battles with Rosell over the signing of Neymar and other targets; now he is out of the picture and the much more malleable Tito Vilanova, who doesn’t have years of success to use as the final word, is in charge it may be easier to make a move happen.
The rumours this week suggest that Neymar could stay in Santos for another season before joining up with Barcelona for the start of the 2013/14, one year before he takes centre-stage on home soil at the World Cup.
There appears to be little foundation in reports that a deal has been done or is even close but there is certainly fertile ground for a deal to happen. When or if it happens is unclear, but perhaps the silly season where action on the pitch takes a back seat for a month or so does have its worth.
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