Inside story of Neymar’s controversial move to Barcelona

It has been revealed that Neymar attracted strong interest from the likes of Real Madrid and Chelsea. In fact Madrid was a front runner in the chase for Neymar for a long time but the Brazilian always had a special place for Barcelona in his heart.

Neymar is seen as a successor to Lionel Messi at Barcelona.   -  AP

Neymar Jr is undoubtedly one of the biggest names in world football right now. He is in fact seen as someone who will take over the mantle from Lionel Messi at Barcelona, and be the next big superstar at the club.

But his transfer to Barcelona has been one of the most controversial moves, the legal repercussions of which are still likely to be felt by both the player and the club. The murky dealings which later surfaced, also led to then Barcelona president Sandro Rosell resigning.

Some light has been thrown on the move in the latest book titled Football’s Secret Trade: How the Player Transfer Market was Infiltrated, by Alex Duff and Tariq Panja, which is due to be published on 10 April 2017. The book was excerpted exclusively by The Guardian.

It has been revealed that Neymar attracted strong interest from the likes of Real Madrid and Chelsea. At a young age of 14, Neymar travelled to Madrid along with agent Wagner Ribeiro, the same agent who was responsible for Robinho’s move to the Spanish capital.

Seeing this, Santos contacted football lawyer Marcos Motta and asked him to warn off Real Madrid and alert the football authorities. “We said: listen he’s a minor,” Motta said. “We called Fifa, we called the Brazilian football federation – we called everybody.” Real Madrid said Neymar was just visiting. Soon after, Neymar signed his first contract with Santos.

Santos could not match the wages top European teams were offering. So, when Neymar renewed his contract soon after, his agent managed to convince Santos to give Neymar 40% of his future transfer fee. It was not unheard of for South American footballers to be promised a cut of their next transfer fee. It was a way for clubs to retain talent a season or two longer. Fifa allowed club executives to award players up to 15% of their own fees (in 2015, in an internal directive, Fifa effectively capped the amount at €1 million) – what was more unusual was for a player to bank a cut of his transfer rights before he was even traded.

Santos sweetened the deal by telling Neymar’s father they had arranged an immediate buyer for the stake: supermarket chain owner Delcir Sonda.

Neymar’s father valued the stake in his son’s transfer rights at 5 million reais, about €1.8m. Sonda even came up with an extra $500,000 for Ribeiro. Neymar therefore became a millionaire before his 18th birthday.

He made his Brazil debut in August 2010, and was approached by Chelsea the same day. “We had a meeting in the Hilton Hotel on Lexington Avenue” in New York, Motta said. Seated in the lobby were Neymar’s father, Ribeiro, Pini Zahavi, the Israeli dealmaker who knew Abramovich, a delegation from Chelsea and Luis Álvaro de Oliveira Ribeiro, the newly elected Santos president. Luis Álvaro ended the conversation quickly. He rejected the €35m being offered by the Premier League team. While he tried to appear calm, he was spooked by Chelsea’s push to sign Neymar immediately. He phoned officials back in Brazil to prepare a special career-plan programme designed to keep Neymar at the club for as long as possible. The plan included giving him English and Spanish lessons, specialist physical preparation and hiring him a wealth-management team.

But it was always Real Madrid who were seen as the most likely destination where Neymar would end up, José Ángel Sanchez, the club’s general director, had a meeting with Sonda lawyer Eduardo Carlezzo in Madrid in late 2011. At about the same time, Real Madrid made a €45 million bid for Neymar but it was rejected. Real tried another front. President Florentino Pérez called his Santos counterpart while the Brazilian was taking the two youngest of his six children on a trip to France. Pérez offered to fly Luis Álvaro to Madrid for lunch. “I imagine you want to have lunch with me to talk about Neymar’s rights?” Luis Álvaro said, recalling the conversation. “I said ‘don’t waste your time and fuel on the plane because we have no interest in selling.’ What did he do? He got on his jet, flew to Paris and had lunch with me.” At Guy Savoy, one of the most exclusive restaurants in Paris, Álvaro told Pérez what he had told Chelsea: no sale.

Chelsea’s director of football, Michael Emenalo flew to Santos to try again.

Emenalo made a sales pitch with the story of the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan. How Chicago was not a big team, but together they evolved into international icons. Neymar could become Chelsea’s Michael Jordan, Emenalo said. José Mourinho was about to return to the club as manager and he wants to sign you, the Nigerian added. “You are going to lead Chelsea to the top.”

It was one of the finest sales pitch ever according to Motta, “It was the very first time that I saw Neymar’s father listen to someone for more than 30 minutes without looking at his mobile,”

But Neymar had his eyes firmly set on Barcelona, and on November 15, he signed a deal pledging to join Barcelona in 2014, and in return the club would pay him an initial €10m and a further €30m when he moved. Three days later Neymar’s parents formed a company called N&N Consultoria Esportiva e Empresarial to receive the first payment. Ten million euros were wired into its bank account in São Paulo.

The pact wasn’t made public and not even Santos knew about it. Eight months later Barcelona buried the terms of the deal on page 178 of their financial accounts, saying it had made a down payment on a future purchase without giving any more details or mentioning Neymar’s name. Neymar’s father continued to exert pressure over Santos by requesting they shorten his son’s contract by one year to 2013. Barcelonawanted to bring forward the deal, because Real Madrid was still pushing aggressively to sign Neymar.

He eventually signed for Barcelona for a modest transfer fees of €17m. It was seen as a coup for Sandro Rosell. But the taste of success would not last long for the president. At about the same time, Rosell was making an enemy among the fans. Jordi Cases, a pharmacist in his 40s, had a season seat in the cheap third tier at the Camp Nou.

Cases had become incensed by a decision by Rosell to sign a €30m-a-year sponsorship deal with Qatar. He felt that Rosell and his board were betraying the motto of being “més que un club”

After failing to make any significant progress in stopping the deal, Cases eventually turned his attention to page 178 of the club’s financial report that mentioned a €10m down payment on a €40m accord. He wrote to Rosell and the board seeking more details. They ignored him.

In December, Cases faxed a complaint to Spain’s National Court in Madrid asking it to investigate whether Rosell had misapplied funds to make the payment. He said he wasn’t accusing the president of a crime, he just wanted to know how the club was spending money on behalf of members. The board responded to Cases this time. Rosell called the complaint “reckless” and his general secretary, Tony Freixa, wrote a letter in Catalan on Christmas Eve to the family pharmacy saying the club could seek damages from him if confidential details about Neymar’s contract were made public. “As you can imagine, the size of the damages would be very high,” Freixa wrote.

Cases was unbowed. When, after the Christmas break, judge Pablo Ruz agreed to investigate, Cases realised he had triggered a scandal. Rosell immediately quit, although he continued to deny wrongdoing. He said he was stepping down to stop the fallout affecting the club.

Later on the money involving Neymar’s transfer was finally revealed to the public, Interim president Josep Bartomeu said the transfer costed the club €57.1m – the €17.1m Santos transfer fee plus Neymar’s €40m – although there were a series of bonus payments worth millions more to the player and his family. Neymar would receive €500,000 per year to be a so-called ambassador for Barcelona in Brazil and his father would receive €400,000 per year to scout three young Santos players. All the payments were on top of Neymar’s annual salary of more than €10m. “We can’t be any more transparent,” Bartomeu told reporters.

Cases had not intended to make such an impact and he withdrew his complaint from the Madrid court but it was too late. The court case was going ahead and Rosell faced up to seven years in prison if convicted [a judge at Spain’s National Court subsequently dropped charges against Rosell]. Neymar’s father said he had done nothing wrong. He wasn’t charged with any crime and said he had paid all taxes due in Brazil. Dressed in a white shirt, purple tie and suit and carrying a black Louis Vuitton briefcase, the former mechanic turned up at court in Madrid to give evidence to judge Ruz, winking and flashing a thumbs-up sign to press photographers.

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