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This article was published 19/10/2012 (1375 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On Wednesday night Santos forward Neymar emerged from the tunnel at the Vila Belmiro wearing the No. 200 jersey and sporting a hairstyle unusually more modest than the mohawk-rooster-mullet thing that's typically perched upon his head.
The number -- in recognition of his 200th appearance for the S£o Paulo side. (They do these types of things in Brazil. The same night Chinese attacker Chen Zhizhao was also given the No. 200 shirt, but in this instance it was to honour 200 years of Chinese immigration to Brazil. The hair -- a likely result of travel fatigue.)
Only hours before kickoff against Atletico Mineiro Neymar's flight from Europe had landed in S£o Paulo. His two goals against Japan on Tuesday had helped the Brazilian national side to a 4-0 win at a neutral site in Poland -- a match in which he played 85 minutes.
But after hopping a plane to South America he made it back home in time to suit up for Santos, nevermind the day's journey from an international friendly on another continent, five time zones away.
It's important to point all this out, because just 10 minutes after kick-off against the second-best team in the country Neymar had the ball in the back of the net following an astonishing piece of individual brilliance.
After taking possession just inside the attacking third, he cleverly spun past his marker, side-stepped an aggressive, sliding challenge and faked out the final defender before smashing the ball past the goalkeeper inside the far post.
His victims: Rafael Marques, Leonardo Silva and Junior Cesar -- protectors of one of the best defensive records in the division.
Even with jet lag and lack of sleep Neymar was still far and away the best player in the park. He usually is. And it raises a fascinating question. When the time comes that he decides to move to Europe, how much will he be worth?
Last month the Spanish outlet Sport ran a front-page story claiming Neymar had a pre-contract agreement in place with Barcelona. Both the player and the club immediately dismissed the report, which also suggested the 20-year-old could only back out of the deal if he paid a Ç¨40 million indemnification.
Now, Ç¨40 million is a lot of money, even in soccer's inflated transfer market. But assuming Santos keep him under contract to ensure they don't lose him for nothing, Ç¨40 million (which the Sport article essentially valued him at) is a laughable sum. It would have to be nearly doubled for the club to even consider it, especially since Paris Saint-Germain just recently forked out Ç¨43 million for S£o Paulo forward Lucas Moura -- a far less established player.
Neymar's arm will have to be twisted to make a move as well. He's currently on a base salary of just over Ç¨110,000 per week and has lucrative sponsorship deals with the likes of Red Bull, Nike and Panasonic that push his earnings up to around Ç¨1.1 million per month.
Very few sides would be willing to match those numbers for a player his age (Chelsea, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Zenit St. Petersburg and Anzhi Makhachkala are likely the only ones who could do it), and none of them would be able to offer the iconic status he enjoys in his home country.
Then there's the third-party ownership situation to sort out. Santos own just 45 per cent of Neymar's playing rights, and after the 10 per cent retained by the player's personal holding company, that leaves an additional 45 per cent owned by third-party investors. Each will have to be satisfied, and the process will be anything but smooth.
There are messy days ahead in Neymar's career, days when he'll be discussed and divided like a commodity. But he'll be playing some fantastic soccer in Brazil before that time comes, and it would be a shame not to appreciate it. Who knows? It may be the best we see of him.
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