Brazil’s Neymar is on the verge of choosing one of two offers from un-named clubs, reported to be Spanish suitors Barcelona and Real Madrid, after Santos agreed on Friday to transfer him.
Santos said they had ended a three-year fight to keep the 21-year-old, Brazil’s big hope for next year’s World Cup finals, and agreed to a transfer, giving him the right to choose which offer to accept, though a decision was not imminent.
“In the face of the offers and the player’s contract, the management committee of the club decided to sell the player,” Santos said in a statement.
“At a meeting with the representatives of Santos FC’s management committee, the forward Neymar Jr was informed about the proposals received by the club and will analyse them in the coming days before making a definitive decision,” Santos added in a later statement.
“I’m happy by the interest from both clubs, it makes me proud, but now I’m going home because my mother’s waiting,” Neymar was quoted by Gazeta Esportiva as saying as he left Santos’s Vila Belmiro stadium with his father. Gazeta said Neymar would turn out for Santos in their opening match of the Brazilian championship against Flamengo in Brasilia today.
Representatives of Barcelona and Real are in Brazil and the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper put the latest offer from Barça at 74 million Brazilian Real (£23.88m).
The Spanish champions are looking to revamp their stellar squad after what by their high standards is a slump during which they have been eliminated from the European Champions League at the semi-final stage for the last two seasons.
Neymar, regarded as former Santos great Pele’s heir, was the only non European-based player among the 23 finalists for FIFA’s player of the year award in 2012 and has been a target of top European sides for at least three years, including Chelsea in 2010. Until now Santos had rejected all offers and improved his contract, which included sponsorships, to stay at the club, and he often attended marketing events. The ready-smiling Neymar became a celebrity, had a part in a television soap opera and admirers imitated his Mohican-style haircut.
In November 2011 he said he had signed for Santos until after next year’s World Cup tournament but has often said he favoured a move to Barcelona.
However, since the middle of last year a move had become increasingly possible for the current South American player of the year as Santos lost form and he demanded improvements in the squad.
The subject of whether Neymar should go to Europe or not became a topic of debate within the national team, given how important some players believed it was for him to get experience of facing the world’s top defenders.
Neymar made his debut for Santos aged 17 in 2009 and the following year helped the team win the Paulista (Sao Paulo) state championship and Copa Brasil knockout tournament.
Such was his impact playing alongside creative midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso that fans and media wanted to see them both included in Brazil’s 2010 World Cup squad in South Africa but coach Dunga resisted the calls.
Neymar confirmed his qualities as a match winner with his brilliant dribbling and finishing as Santos were crowned South American champions with their third Libertadores Cup title, the first since Pele’s heyday in the early 1960s.
However, his performances for Brazil have often disappointed and he was a part of the teams that were knocked out of the Copa America in Argentina in 2011 at the quarter-final stage and lost the Olympic gold medal match to Mexico in London last year.
He was even booed playing for Brazil in friendlies in Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte, but he has the confidence of national coach Luiz Felipe Scolari for the two big events at home, the Confederations Cup next month and the 2014 World Cup.