Brazil's golden boy Neymar is ready for Barcelona

 

After missing out on last night's Champions' League final, Barcelona are confident of starting next season with the Brazilian forward Neymar installed alongside the World Player of the Year, Lionel Messi.

Neymar's club, Santos, have reluctantly accepted bids from two clubs, widely understood to be Barcelona and Real Madrid. Although they would prefer him to join Madrid, who have offered £30 million, the player has intimated for some time that he would like to join the Spanish club's great rivals, whose offer is £24m. Chelsea were turned down when they offered £30m three years ago.

Neymar has outshone the fading Ronaldinho as the pin-up boy of Brazilian football and was recently named as the most marketable athlete in the world, ahead of Messi and the golfer Rory McIlroy. As money will not be a problem for him, he is expected to opt for joining Messi at the Nou Camp.

Yesterday he would only say: "I'm happy to know that these two clubs are interested in me. I'm very proud, it's one of the happiest moments of my life. I'll look at both offers very carefully. I'll go home and make a decision along with my family. I'm not in a hurry. The decision may come in five minutes, in half an hour or in three days."

A Santos statement said: "In the face of the offers and the player's contract, the management committee of the club decided to sell the player. At a meeting with the representatives of Santos FC's management committee, the forward Neymar Jnr was informed about the proposals received by the club and will analyse them in the coming days before making a definitive decision."

The club's vice-president, Odilio Rodrigues, who has admitted the existence of a "gentleman's agreement" with Barcelona, added: "We did everything we could to keep Neymar playing for Santos."

In fact, they have done well to keep him for so long. He joined as a 13-year-old and made his debut in 2009, aged 17. Noted as a prodigy early on, he was voted South American Footballer of the Year aged only 19 and has been an obvious target to join the traditional South American exodus to Europe for some time.

His scoring record is a goal every two games for his club and an even better ratio for Brazil (20 in 32 internationals), although he has been criticised for not living up to the huge expectations of the national team. He will again carry many of their hopes in next year's home World Cup as well as next month's Confederations Cup, after the friendly international against England in Rio next Sunday.

Last summer he was among those criticised when a Brazilian side in which his team-mates included Chelsea's Oscar, plus Thiago Silva, Hulk and the Tottenham target Leandro Damiao lost the final of the London Olympics at Wembley to Mexico. He returned there when Brazil were beaten 2-1 by England in February, spoiling his performance by missing some good chances.

Today he is due to play for Santos in the opening match of the new national championship season against Flamengo. They were heavily dependent on him last season but finished only 12th, because he was away on international duty so often.

Pele, the club's great hero, has said Neymar should "pay his dues" and stay, but that is now a forlorn hope. His contract runs until the end of the World Cup, but he could then leave for nothing, so now is the obvious time to sell.

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