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FOOTBALL CHASING YOUNG NEYMAR

A bidding war to seduce young Neymar



MUCH SOUGHT AFTER: Neymar with Santos FC club mascots, prior to the Copa do Brasil match against Joinville in Santos earlier this week

With Barcelona's bid for the wonderkid momentarily rejected by Santos, is Real Madrid's presence in the acquisition war reminiscent of the Alfredo de Stefano saga that ultimately changed the face of club football in Europe?

In the promos of Brazil's latest prime-time telenovela, Amor a' Vida (Love of Life), Neymar is seen running away from a Maria Shooteira character. Clad in a towel, the football star runs around the tables in a hotel as former MTV artist Ta'ta Werneck chases him. She just wants to have a child with the Santos' player. The one-minute promo has made people curious about Neymar's television debut and his tryst with Maria Shooteira, a typical Brazilian figure. Maria is an awfully common Brazilian name and Shooteira means the "football boot" in Portuguese. Put together, it refers to those pretty girls who literally stalk and throw themselves at multimillionaire players. Some of them make it to the coveted WAGS club.

In the bars of Sao Paulo, the joke these days is that the agents of Europe's biggest football clubs are chasing Neymar like Maria Shooteiras. Or maybe, some say, it's the other way round. A natural talent, Neymar is the hottest property in world football at the moment. In Brazil, he is the biggest celebrity despite the fact that he hasn't won anything for the country yet.
And he is just 21.

It's that time of the year - summer in northern hemisphere and winter here - when young football talent migrates from South American to Europe. For the past few weeks, media here has been buzzing with stories of Neymar moving to a European club in July, when the transfer window opens after the Confederations Cup. This week, newspapers in Spain and Brazil reported that Neymar had signed a deal with FC Barcelona. But Santos directors said they were just talking to the Spanish club. On Wednesday, Santos actually rejected an offer of 20 million made by the club which also has Lionel Messi in its ranks. Though the Brazilian club could make 55 per cent of this huge amount by releasing Neymar to Barcelona, they didn't. According to gossip among the football hacks here, after their 7-0 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-finals, which was partly missed by the injured Messi, the Spanish club wants a back-up for the Argentinian. Also, just imagine Messi and Neymar moving on the pitch in tandem. This combination would be unbeatable. The Santos bosses know that Barcelona, who have reserved the No 11 shirt for the Brazilian, would pay anything to make this happen. But Barcelona is not the only club with deep pockets and a dream to have Neymar as their striker. It's their traditional rival Real Madrid who have actually thrown a spanner in their plans. On Wednesday, just when Santos' directors were mulling to sign on the dotted line, Real made a counter-offer of 40 million. So intense is the bidding war between Barca and Real that top directors of Camp Nou have been camping in Brazil for weeks, negotiating with Santos;the Real president Florentino Perez's has sent his trusted aides to Brazil to talk to Neymar's father, who is also his agent.

A tough nut to crack, Neymar Senior is one of those Brazilians whose families have been saved from the drudgery of poor life and put into the lap of luxury by his son's ability to dribble the ball and score goals at will. Although Neymar Sr has been talking to a number of European clubs for months, this week as the bidding war really got hot, he insisted that his his son "wants to complete" his contract with Santos. "Barcelona are waiting for Neymar but for 2014. A project is in place to see how he will fit there. They have put people close to Neymar to see how it would work. And Real Madrid is doing the same thing in the same way, " he said on Tuesday, a day before Santos rejected Barca's bid.

Neymar Sr, who has complete control over his son's personal and professional life, has really foxed Santos, who have to make a tough choice till the transfer window is open. The Sao Paulo club is faced with the prospect of selling the player for cheaper than they want - his release clause is 65m - or risk losing him on a free transfer in 2014. If Santos can't sell Neymar in six months, the player will be allowed to sign a pre-contract with any club, and the Brazilian club will not get anything in return. But Neymar's father will be very happy in this situation as he can negotiate his own contract with Barcelona or Real Madrid.

His talent and the price attached to his transfer makes Neymar's story big, but bidding wars happen across the country this time of the year. Brazil is the biggest exporter of football talent to Europe. In 2011, it sent 500 players to Europe's top-division sides. But many Brazilians now prefer to play at home. In the past few years, an increasing number of Brazilian players have gone back home from Europe. As one of the world's emerging economies, the country is accumulating wealth and the lifestyle is getting better. Also, the Brazilians are more comfortable in their own culture. That's why hugely talented players like Pato and Ganso are playing for Sao Paulo clubs. But Neymar has told his close friends that his move to Europe is "inevitable". Neymar running away from a local Maria Shooteira, but he has seduced by the ones from Europe.

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