Heart Of Football

Miami Clasico just a sideshow with all eyes on irate Brazilian

Every man has his price, but Neymar's family might oblige us to revise that to read that every man's father has his price.

Neymar Santos Jr is the talent. Neymar Santos Sr, the father, is the controlling influence on the son's career.

At the age of 25, Neymar has the world at his feet. He is in his prime while other stars like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo edge towards veteran status.

But, as Barcelona and Real Madrid play each another in Miami today, all eyes are on Neymar. The Spanish giants are engaged in a contrived version of the Clasico, a devaluation of the world's greatest derby.

The players are between seasons. Messi has just married and is sweating off excess weight as he prepares for the serious stuff in a long year that will end in the World Cup next summer.

Time, then, for even Barca and Madrid to sell themselves in glorified training. The heat in Miami is similar to Singapore. The humidity is higher, and any professional player worth his salt will make adjustments for that in their approach to this stage of the year.

Miami, however, is a real football city because of its huge Latin American population. The folks there know football better than the media does.

Neymar (centre) with Barcelona team-mates Luis Suarez (left) and Lionel Messi during a training session in Miami on Thursday. Barca take on Real Madrid in an ICC match today, while the world waits to see whether the Brazilian will move to Paris Saint-Germain. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The fans know they are watching a rehearsal. And many viewed Thursday's training-ground altercation between Neymar and Barca's new Portuguese full-back Nelson Semedo for what it was. It was a passing spat between temperamental athletes who will wake up tomorrow and laugh at their own silliness.

It happens, almost daily, among footballers pushing minds and bodies out of pre-season lethargy. Training hurts; it is intended to. And what happens out of competition, even if you sell it for top dollar, is quickly forgotten once real business begins.

The Miami circus, however, becomes elevated in the media storm because of Neymar.

As Barcelona and Real Madrid play each another in Miami today, all eyes are on Neymar. The Spanish giants are engaged in a contrived version of the Clasico, a devaluation of the world's greatest derby. Rob Hughes

The father once played professionally, but he had barely a scintilla of his son's fabulous talent or the breathtaking sums being thrown at the modern generation.

The attempts by Paris Saint-Germain to lure Neymar from Barcelona have gone through the father. Last summer and this, PSG's Qatari owners have courted the father, just as Barcelona did through Nike's Brazilian connections four years ago.

That transfer, from Pele's old club, Santos, has been wrapped in acrimony that dragged Barcelona and the Neymars through the courts, and is still not satisfactorily resolved.

This new one involves some sleight of hand because, if PSG go through with triggering the €222 million (S$354 million) buy-out clause that would get Neymar, they would breach Uefa regulations relating to teams not paying more than they earn.

Money talks, and there are ways and means around regulations. There is an awful lot more than the release fee. According to reports in France and Spain, the Qatar Sports Investments company that bankrolls PSG has agreed to pay Neymar €30 million per year, net of taxes, plus a signing-on bonus.

Then there are reports in the Brazilian media that Neymar Sr will have his cut for guiding his boy to Paris. And that Pini Zahavi, the Israeli "super agent", is due a fee for his work on the deal.

It tots up to €36 million beyond the transfer fee. And who knows what role Nike, sponsor to both Barca and PSG, plays in the negotiations.

You might have read that Neymar was on his way to China right after the Miami match, another Nike obligation for the kit manufacturer that, like everybody else, is eyeing the rising market of China's obsession with the game.

There have been mixed signals over Neymar's Shanghai stopover, which had the blessings of Barcelona because the club also have business there. Reports that the fan meeting in China was off were said to be premature, or at least Barcelona denied that the trip was cancelled in order to free him to conclude his move to Paris.

Does even Neymar know his next move? His team-mates Gerard Pique, Luis Suarez, even the quiet Andres Iniesta, have had their say.

Neymar's only comment has been a tweet against "noticias falsas" (fake news). The clock is ticking, and only he can put the record straight.

Twenty-five is mid-career, even to one who has grown up hearing Pele predict that he is the greatest player Brazil has produced since Pele himself. At 25, surely, you expect a man to be his own man, not his father's.

Watch Neymar in action and you see an individual who on his day can destroy any opponent. He did it masterfully, tellingly, in the 6-1 game in the Champions League last season when Barcelona achieved arguably the greatest comeback in the greatest competition.

Against? Why, of course, Paris Saint-Germain.

Neymar that night was greater even than Messi. He displayed not simply skills, but a huge heart to defy the odds and destroy the Paris team that, he knew, wanted him.

Of all the 320 club games Neymar has played, and all the 175 goals he has scored and 118 assists he has given, that was his finest night. His message to both clubs was that he did not intend to stay forever in the shadow of Messi.

He did start off that way. Early on at the Nou Camp, he seemed so eager to please the world's best player that he was almost subservient to Messi.

Now there is just one caveat holding back Neymar - his indiscipline. I do not mean the fisticuffs between him and Semedo, but I refer to his growing tally of yellow and red cards.

Think back to the opening game of the 2014 World Cup when Neymar, Brazil's captain on Brazilian soil, elbowed Croatia's Luca Modric in the face. Because it was Neymar, and because it was Brazil, the Japanese referee let him off with just a yellow card.

The poster boy was indulged, then as now.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 30, 2017, with the headline 'Miami Clasico just a sideshow with all eyes on irate Brazilian'. Print Edition | Subscribe