Heart Of Football

Has Neymar chosen the right dream?

What are we to make of today's values? In London, Mo Farah, a refugee from Somalia running in a British vest, destroys, again, the best 10,000m line-up humankind can field.

In Paris, 10,000 shirts bearing Neymar's name sell out within a few hours of the Brazilian's arrival at the Parc des Princes.

For the record, since Neymar says he feels no burden on his 69kg frame, Farah weighs in at 10kg less.

Farah, the undisputed king of distance and endurance over a decade. Neymar, heralded as the new king - "the Transfer of the Century" - by the French media.

And all the world has eyes, perhaps envy, for this latest Brazilian to lay claim to global stardom.

Neymar insists that he followed his heart and not the money. Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the representative of the Qatar ruling family who paid €222 million (S$358 million) to buy out Neymar's contract and perhaps twice that sum once the salary and the demands of Neymar's father, agents and lawyers are accounted for, declares PSG will gain more than they paid for "the best player in the world".

I'm guessing that there are split opinions in families from Singapore to Saint-Germain. The generation that witnessed Pele will not see Neymar on that level just yet.

At 25, he might still have his best to come. Yet he looks, and acts, so much younger, like a player about to burst into the greatness Paris and others see in him. 

The over-25s who are enjoying Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo might think Neymar is, at best, the heir apparent to them.

But, to the young and impressionable growing into a world of instant messaging and instant celebrity, all this probably sounds grumpy old man stuff.

Pele is the past. Messi and Ronaldo are in their 30s, for heaven's sake. Neymar is the now. He has the best image-makers Nike and a score of other corporations can muster.

And he has a dad who not only passed on his name, but has dedicated his life after his own modest playing career to marketing his boy. A king in the making Neymar Jr may be, but it was telling that, when he visited the Camp Nou to say his goodbyes last Wednesday, one of the first things he reportedly asked Barca officials was when were they going to pay his father's "loyalty" bonus.

That fee, amounting to 10 per cent of the €222 -million release clause, related to the signing of Neymar's five-year contract extension to stay at Barcelona. A contract signed by father and son just a year ago.

Some of us might struggle with the word loyalty in this context.

Others have suggested that Barcelona must get real, get a life, and recycle the profits quickly into getting somebody new to join Messi and Luis Suarez in the now-broken Trident attack.

A lot of news outlets have been working out the maths on what could be bought by spending just the transfer fee of the Neymar deal. Al Jazeera, the news agency that is ultimately owned by the same family that governs Qatar, played the game of numbers.

The agency worked out that the Neymar money could buy a Boeing 787 Dreamliner passenger plane. It could provide primary education for 1.15 million Indian children.

Al Jazeera's list concluded, appropriately, by pointing out that the transfer fee could buy only three-quarters of Leo Messi because his buy-out sum is €300 million.

But Messi turned 30 this year. Ronaldo is even older at 32. One day they will be history, and then, maybe, Neymar will grow into their shoes.

He has the skills. Either he was born fantastic, or his Papa's diligent work from the first moments Junior could walk helped him to become that. Either way, the Neymar of today is wondrously gifted and quick and agile on the ball.

He scored 175 goals and gave 118 assists in his 320 games to date, for Santos in Brazil and then Barcelona.

He admits that he was a kind of apprentice to Messi, sharing the field and the dressing room, and being generously helped to acclimatise not simply to Europe, but also to the very top of the game.

Champions League is the declared Holy Grail of the Qatar-financed Parisian adventure. The day will come, surely, when the petro-dollar buys the Champions League trophy and Abu Dhabi is pouring similar millions into Manchester City.

PSG were courting Neymar Sr to sell them his son long before this year. And long before Neymar, the talented one, inspired the greatest comeback in European Cup history.

It was in March this year. Barca were 4-1 down after the first leg in Paris against, yes, PSG. For some reason, PSG thought they could turn up at the Nou Camp without due diligence to defence.

They paid for it in a 1-6 defeat. Messi and Suarez scored, of course, in that turnaround. But Neymar surpassed them. His performance, both in ball movement and deep courage to defy the odds, inspired that famous victory.

At 25, he might still have his best to come. Yet he looks, and acts, so much younger, like a player about to burst into the greatness Paris and others see in him.

If he stays healthy, and isn't too dazzled by being so wealthy, Neymar's time might come.

Of all the words written about him last week, perhaps the most informed were from Tostao. The player-maker in the fabulous 1970 Brazil side, Tostao qualified as a medical doctor and now is a columnist in Sao Paulo.

"Neymar has learnt a lot playing with Messi," Tostao wrote. "There is no contradiction between, on one hand, the happiness that he has playing for one of the world's great teams and the admiration he feels for Messi - and on the other his desire to be even more famous and become a bigger star than he already is."

Tostao concluded that it is impossible to predict which would be better for Neymar, to stay or to go: "The bad thing would be if he dreams about one option, and takes the other."

Only the Neymars know whether he has chosen the dream, or the other.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 06, 2017, with the headline 'Has Neymar chosen the right dream?'. Print Edition | Subscribe