Nobody knew quite how the transfer of Brazil superstar Neymar Jr from Santos to Barcelona would turn out. Would the flashy dresser with magic in his boots adapt to the city, to the team’s style of play, and to being part of a star-studded squad instead of the main attraction?
In his fledgling azulgrana career, Neymar has not ceased to amaze everybody involved with FC Barcelona: the fans, because of his skill on the field; the club employees, because of his professionalism; and his teammates because of the naturalness with which he has fitted in. “Either somebody explained it all to him or he’s more of a genius than we thought,” say club sources. “Within a week he had figured out the positional demands of the team, which isn’t easy.” It took Chile international Alexis Sánchez, for example, several months. Others never manage to adapt to the highly structured playing system the club employs. “He picks everything up very quickly,” says vice-captain Xavi Hernández. “He adapts to the game. He’s a very intelligent player.”
“The left wing, with Andrés (Iniesta), could mark an era in the history of the game if they come to understand each other well,” say the coaching staff.
The former Santos forward, Ney to his teammates, “is always in a good mood, but he’s not a pain in the neck or anything. He's quiet, polite.” Neymar enjoys a laugh with Alexis, watches everything Xavi, Iniesta and Leo Messi do to learn his craft, and has struck up a friendship with Marc Barta and Sergi Roberto, two of the team’s younger players. Neymar is 21.
The left wing, with Iniesta, could mark an era in the history of the game”
The Brazil sensation is rarely alone in Barcelona, where he lives with his father, and it is a rare week when a couple of his friends from home do not arrive at El Prat airport. “They’re good people. They’ve known him all his life and they know they have to look after him and they do,” people at the club say. Sometimes his mother visits with Neymar’s son, but the child’s mother has not appeared and is not expected to: “It’s not that they are separated; it’s that they were only together for two days.”
Neymar has occasionally been seen with his current girlfriend on the Paseo de Gracia, eating at a Japanese restaurant recommended by Cesc Fàbregas. “He is very well adapted,” say his teammates. Even opponents are amazed by how quickly he has slotted into Barcelona’s team: “I found his quick integration surprising. It’s not easy being so young and arriving at such a big club and to be doing what he’s doing with such humility,” says Espanyol coach Javier Aguirre.
“Everybody has been watching to see how he would respond and he has risen to the occasion at every moment,” notes Barcelona boss Gerardo Martino. “And I’m talking about Santos and Brazil as well. At such a young age he has shown his ability to deal with the pressure.”
Off the field, the club has also been surprised by Neymar’s attitude. “He’s the most professional player I’ve ever seen,” says a veteran Barcelona board member. The influence of Eduardo Musa over Neymar’s business interests is also seen as a positive one. According to Forbes magazine, the Brazil forward made $20.5 million in 2012, making him the best-paid young player in the world and the only one of his age group on the list of the top-100 highest-earning athletes, which is headed by Tiger Woods. Neymar’s company has 22 employees, from marketing executives, media specialists and financial experts to secretaries and administrative assistants.
His father, Neymar da Silva Santos Sr, supervises everything. “They don’t have any fictitious companies. All of them are functioning and generating employment,” said a Barcelona executive. Neymar S. L. was created in 2006, when the player was 14. Neymar Sr and his wife, Nadine, foresaw their son’s prosperous future and formed the management company NR Sports.
Neymar makes more from his business venture than from soccer, but he probably doesn’t even know it. “What is clear is that what happened to Messi [who made a court appearance in September over accusations of possible tax evasion] won’t happen to him: five financial advisors went through his contract before he signed it,” say club sources. Neymar’s obsession with social media also astounded his new employer. “We sealed the deal with one condition: that he would make the announcement on the social networks.”
“He knew he was going to have a good career and he knows how to manage it,” club sources note. “Many of the photos you see on Instagram form part of his marketing strategy. If he’s on the PlayStation wearing boxer shorts, he’s either advertising boxer shorts or PlayStation is paying… or both.”
So far, Neymar’s Barcelona career couldn’t be going better. “He even enjoys training,” his coaches say. But the executive arm of Barcelona FC fears one thing on Neymar da Silva Santos Jr’s horizon: “The concern is how he will come out of the World Cup. If Brazil wins, he might start to feel like God; if they don’t, it might affect him badly.”
At Barcelona there are precedents for this: Romario was never the same after Brazil triumphed at USA 1994, and Ronaldinho came back a different player after the Canarinha fell flat at Germany 2006.