Brazilian football giants Santos FC have confirmed that their superstar striker Neymar Jr. will be leaving the club. Neymar can pick his next club after Santos accepted two offers, both of which came from Spain.
The port city club announced on its official Twitter feed late on Friday evening in Brazil that it would sell Neymar Jr., one year before he could leave for nothing as a free agent. Despite Santos' "motivated seller" status, it's likely the prodigious young talent will rake in a transfer fee of at least 30 million euros ($38.8 million).
"In the face of the offers and the player's contract, the management committee of the club decided to sell the player," the Santos tweet said. "We await Neymar and his father at the Vila Belmiro stadium to choose which proposal the athlete is going to accept." Neymar will wave farewell to the fans on Sunday when Santos face Flamengo in the opening match of the new Brazilian season.
Santos did not publicly announce the identities of Neymar's suitors at first, but later confirmed widespread suspicions that it was Barcelona and Real Madrid. Santos made this move after Neymar and his father came to the club and told them that they had not reached a decision in the heat of the moment, that they needed more time.
Certain of the bidders' identities, but not Neymar's decision, Spanish newspaper Marca ran a Saturday morning headline saying "Neymar will play the next Clasico." The "Clasico" is the Spanish name for clashes between Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Santosthis week publicly rejected two offers from Barcelona, with the club's Brazilian right-back Dani Alves appealing to his countryman Neymar to join the Catalan side. Barcelona's star striker from Argentina, Lionel Messi, similarly said Neymar would be a "wonderful signing" in an interview with the "Qatar Alkass" television station.
"I don't know if he will come to Barca in the end, only he can know that," Messi said. "But I do know that he is a player who can make a lot of things happen on the pitch. It's clear that he would be a great acquisition for Barcelona."
Brazil's "Big Phil" votes for Barca
Brazilian national team coach Luiz Felipe Scolari also said this week that he thought Barca were leading the hunt. "Big Phil" is almost certain to take Neymar to this summer's Confederations Cup and to the World Cup in 2014. Brazil will have home advantage in both those competitions.
Still something of a rough diamond, as scintillating as he is selfish when on the ball, the 21-year-old striker is the best-paid athlete in Brazil, an exceedingly famous face and even a bit-part soap opera star on television. In his short career, he has scored 54 goals for Santos and another 20 for the Brazilian national team - with a hit rate exceeding a goal every other game in club and international competition.
He's an attacker in the classic Brazilian mold, full of audacious trickery and unlikely to play the simple, first-touch pass if he can first seek to embarrass a defender or three. The striker's international standing is reflected in the fact that of the 22 short-listed candidates for FIFA's player of the year award, Neymar was the only one not to ply his trade in Europe.
His first major international mission, prior to next summer's World Cup on home soil where Brazil will seek to put two disappointing tournaments behind them, was to bring Brazil Olympic gold in 2012. Neymar led an unusually star-studded young Brazilian side by the standards of Olympic football, which is something of a soccer afterthought, but came away only with a silver medal after a final defeat against Mexico.
He was widely tipped for a summer move to Europe, and not only because of his contractual situation. Now, after a career as a giant fish in the comparatively small pond that is Brazilian club football, Neymar will have a season to cut his teeth as part of a team of international superstars - somewhere in Spain.