Neymar, Barcelona, PSG, and the 'values' of a modern footballer
Is Neymar the embodiment of everything that's wrong with modern football?
Greedy little things these footballers of today, aren't they?
Holding out on contract talks, dragging directors and fans alike through months of depression, forcing the excel-sheet mongers to work late night after late night to come up with ridiculous new release clauses, making themselves out to be more important than the club itself... oh wait, we aren't talking about Leo Messi here, are we?
What we are discussing here is the epitome of the evil morass into which football has descended, the very embodiment of greed in all its ugly glory, the Devil himself appearing in the form of a wispy little man with a strange haircut and an affinity to tattoos that never ceases to amaze.
Neymar Jr. you greedy little sod.
How dare you.
It's the money that hits you in the face first, isn't it? Oh, my good lord, the money... the sheer, massive, obscene, swathes of money.
£200 million, £222 million. $263 million. TWO...SIX...THREE... MILLION. There's no escaping the sheer in-your-face enormity of the amount. Two Hundred and Sixty-Three Million. Jesus!
That's not why Neymar is so greedy, though - sure his father, Neymar Sr., gets a hefty cut as a commission (10%, suggest reports) but that massive $263 million goes to the cobweb filled coffers of Futbol Club Barcelona... no, no... that's not what's gotten the collective cockles of the watching world raised.
It's the money that the crown prince of modern football will make next season onwards... He can say all the emotional dialogues he wants - "I have conquered everything an athlete can conquer. I have lived unforgettable moments. But a player [me] needs challenges" - as well as the usual, seemingly PR-approved - "Paris St-Germain's ambition attracted me to the club, along with the passion and the energy this brings" - but we all know what Neymar really wants, why he really moved to PSG... money.
With one signature, the Brazilian has quadrupled his take-home figure. As per Forbes, it'll go from $37 million last year ($15 mill as salary and bonus from Barcelona, $22 mill from various endorsements) to $93 million this season ($34 million as salary alone - something that works out to £537,000 a week; or £3,200 an hour). That's some $13 million more than the man who has 5 more World Player of the Year awards than he has, the man whose shadow he's purportedly escaping... and on par with the only man who anyone seriously considers Leo Messi's equal.
In one year.
Maybe it's not the money... not just the money. Maybe it's the spotlight.
That doesn't absolve him of the hate, though. Pride is on par with greed when it comes to having your soul judged in the afterlife, isn't it? As is envy....
Sure he said - "I had the honour to play with the greatest athlete I’ve ever seen and I’m sure I won’t see a better one. Leo Messi became my partner and friend both on and off the pitch. I love you! I formed an attack with Messi and Suarez that has gone down in history" - but that's just marketing drivel written for him by his army of advisors, isn't it?
Sid Lowe is just one of a whole host of football experts - and armchair 'experts' - who believe that it was that momentous night against PSG, that epic 6-1 which Neymar orchestrated almost singlehandedly that tipped the scales... he did all the work and got almost none of the credit - the enduring image from that night would also be this one:
That Argentine. Lionel Andres Messi. Regardless of what Neymar did, no matter how well he played - no matter how much better, even - he would always be in the great man's shadow.
In his first ever press conference he thanked Messi for the things he taught him in the four years they were together, denying that the constant pressure of having to play second fiddle to him paved the way for the transfer; saying "No, there was no pressure at all. He was my role model. I was quite nervous in my first week at Barcelona, but after that, I was relaxed. To play with the best is very easy.”
There was no way the Brazilian was even going to be considered for the Ballon d'Or (or FIFA BEST Award- choose your poison), that holy grail of the modern footballer - the only thing a millennial football fan seems to care about - if he continued to play under Messi's wings. So he decided enough was enough and buggered off to the City of Lights.
How dare he.
Life is a joke
In an interview with the New York Times in 2012, there was a phrase that Neymar Sr. kept repeating as the guiding philosophy of the Neymar clan - Calça de veludo ou bunda de fora. It doesn't really have a literal translation, but the Brazilian phrase loosely means Velvet pants or butt out... as in, when you are gambling go for it all, or go for nothing.
Risk everything to gain it all... because life is too short for caution.
In 2012, he said this as a means of defending his, and his son's, decision to remain at Santos despite the growing interest of clubs the world over - the decision that cemented the youngster's popularity in the hearts of his compatriots: too many young Brazilian stars enjoy their formative years outside the nation and have no real connect with their countrymen - Neymar was not like that, he was there for them - building his brand as he laid the foundations to what is now an unshakeable faith in his footballing abilities.
Ok. Not unshakeable; there is no such thing as unshakeable faith in football - any time he had an off day in those four years as a senior Santos player he was subject to the same criticism - he just wants to go to Barcelona, the greedy kid - and every performance was scrutinised with a level of scrutiny that Brazil seems to reserve exclusively for their football, but he overcame all that and much more.
Like the tattoo on his neck says, Tudo Passa, nothing lasts - as Neymar said "Good moments pass, bad moments pass. I have to enjoy these moments as much as I can. When you need to be happy, do the thing well and give your all. This phrase says a lot about me" - and when he joined Barcelona after much speculation in 2013, there were no accusations of him being greedy, or prideful, or disloyal... or a mercenary.
Despite the massive controversy surrounding one of the 'shadiest' transfers of our times, despite the president of Barcelona having to resign, despite the whole shebang forcing the Catalan club to change their entire philosophy towards commercialisation, despite the Neymar family being dragged through various courts of law... the one thing any one had to say about his transfer was "ah! he moved up in life, he went to Barcelona, he went to play alongside Messi... good for him."
So why then are we angry with him moving to Paris Saint-Germain for the exact same reasons he initially moved to Barcelona?
Because he left BARCELONA, BAR-CE-LONA, mes que un club and all, to join what in most of our eyes is still nothing but a rich man's toy club, a pretender, a club that we'll never recognise as one of the true elite.
It's the entitlement bubbling over, isn't it? The sense of disbelief that a footballer could possibly reject Barca, could possibly say no to what most professionals would consider the absolute zenith. Add the common perception that the current generation doesn't have a moral compass, doesn't know the first thing about what really matters in life... that they have no values.... well.
That's the thing, though... as with every "current" generation, there's nothing wrong with their values - it's just the hypocritical, nostalgic, tint we automatically put on that colours everything that particularly violent shade of evil.
Neymar's values, as with any modern footballer for that matter, are the same that drove Willie Groves to move from West Bromwich Albion to Aston Villa for £100 in 1893, what prompted Luis Suarez (the Spaniard) to move from Barcelona to Inter Milan for £152,000 in 1961 or Johan Cruyff to move from Ajax to Barca twelve years later for £922,000... it's what made Diego Maradona break the transfer record twice as he moved to Barca and then Napoli (for £3 million and £5,00,000 respectively).
It's what drove Zinedine Zidane to take travel across the continent from Juventus to Real Madrid for £46,00,000 in 2001 and the same thing that 'called' Cristiano Ronaldo to the Spanish giants eight years later for nearly twice that amount (£80 million if you are wondering).
Hell, it's the same thing that has kept Leo Messi on the Catalan coast for the past decade... ambition.
The desire to earn more money, more fame, more glory.
The times may have changed, but the 'values' have remained the same. You see, the one thing that 'forces' a top, top footballer to do anything is the same thing that 'forces' most of us to do anything with our lives.. to seek glory - whether that be in terms of increasing the size of their bank balance or their trophy cabinet or their professional stature (all three, usually interlinked).
Neymar's never done anything the way it was supposed to be done... he dribbles with the ball when conventional wisdom says pass, he passes when everyone else would have shot, he conjures up space where physics dictates there shouldn't be any... he plays with a freedom that borders on the absurd, a joy that can't be contained. He doesn't make people smile when they watch him, he makes them break out in rolls of thundering laughter.... the Brazilian lives life, and plays football, taking another of his tattoos to heart - life is a joke.
So, of course, he bucked conventional wisdom and left Barcelona... for PSG.
He can talk about building a project, creating history, beating fresh challenges, but we'll never forgive him for it, we'll never let him forget the spat he had with Nelson Semedo a few days before the transfer, the 'disloyalty' he showed - because if there's one thing humankind has agreed on throughout history it is that upstarts are just not going to be given the same kind of leeway the established elite get.
We'll never forgive him. Unless...
You can almost hear the Neymars laugh as they take a walk along the banks of the Seine - they know how big a risk they've taken - win a debut Champions League for PSG and everything the father-son duo have done will be vindicated, fail to shine in Europe (or *shudder* lose domestically) and they'll be thrown under the bus... Calça de veludo ou bunda de fora... velvet pants or butt out, indeed.