Junior's return to Santos was not as simple as it seemed. The club knew of Real Madrid's interest and was now fully aware of the magnitude of the prize they had in their hands; the sheer size of the diamond to be polished. Marcelo Teixeira was still club president, and he'd just sold Robinho. He was also under a huge amount of pressure after Santos' poor showing in the 2005 Brazilian Championship.
Teixeira faced a considerable dilemma: should he pay well above what the market would recommend at the time to hold onto a thirteen-year-old boy, or should he sell him and risk regretting the premature loss of a star with the potential to someday be named the best player in the world? Santos, of all clubs, which had unleashed Pelé upon the world when still in his teens and had just produced Robinho, one of the most coveted players in the world at the time?
Teixeira called Neymar's father in to talk. His wages as a Traffic Company mechanic barely covered the rent in São Vicente, and it wouldn't be easy for the kid to keep on commuting for training each day. Their life was decent but simple. Very simple.
The Santos president asked for a couple of days to put a proposal together. It was no small feat, but within three days he had a package that would organize the boy's life.
Teixeira asked Neymar's father in for further talks.
"So he turns up with Wagner Ribeiro", says Teixeira. Ribeiro was the agent who had brokered Robinho's sale to Europe.
If this had been a normal negotiation between a player and a club, Ribeiro, as an experienced agent, would have conducted Neymar's side of proceedings. But that's not what happened.
"I remember to this day that whenever Wagner made like he was going to interject, Neymar's father would cut him off, saying ‘Look, when I want you to talk, I'll ask you. But right now I want to listen'", recalls Teixeira. "The autonomy and independence that Neymar had in relation to Wagner Ribeiro were completely different in comparison with, say, the Robinho negotiations", he says. "Father and son... one was all the other needed!"
Teixeira's proposal was not to be sniffed at either. Santos offered 2 million reais (a little under 700 thousand dollars), payable in four annual instalments in return for the boy's services until the age of nineteen. In addition, a monthly salary of 16 thousand reais (approximately 5 thousand dollars) - the other under-15s took home an 80 dollar stipend - and a penthouse overlooking Vila Belmiro Stadium.
At the other end of the table was Real Madrid, offering similar wages, a house, employment for the family, and life in Madrid, the Spanish capital, then home to Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos and Robinho. The family would leave behind its simple life in São Vicente and move into the heart of one of the most important Old World capitals.
There would be no lack of amenities in Madrid, but there wouldn't be rice-and-beans or weekend barbeques either... Nor would there be any of Neymar's friends.
For Santos, it was far from a no-brainer. You could fill stadia with young players who failed to deliver on early promise after being given everything they wanted too soon. To pay 16 thousand reais a month to a kid who would be socializing and playing with peers who have to get by on 300 reais a month was a project that had a high probability of not working out.
"You know, I never even thought about any of that. The only risk I saw was that the kid would get injured and wouldn't be able to go on playing. That was a risk, certainly. But it was the only one I saw. I trusted luck, and I trusted what I saw. Neymar has a family behind him; he was never going to get waylaid. Even today, his family is right there beside him, providing support", says Marcelo Teixeira, explaining his gut feeling and reasons for taking a chance on the boy.
With two tempting offers on the table, the decision still wasn't simple. Besides money and career opportunities, there was also the issue of family, a change of country, different habits and customs, a new language, a new climate... But most of all, one vital element was missing: what did the boy want?
Neymar Sr. did not shy from listening to what his son wanted. Even if he had already decided to leave his job as a mechanic, that would not be what would weigh most when the decision was made.
"I sat him down for a serious talk. Real serious. I asked him: What do you want?", recalls Neymar Sr.
With all the wisdom of a thirteen year-old boy who knows what he wants, Neymar Jr. looked his father in the eye and said: "I want to stay at Santos!"
The answer was direct and incisive:
"Then that's where you're going to live!"
The decision had been made. Santos Football Club would be the Brazlian star's first club as a professional footballer.
The Planet Neymar is a new series with stories about the Barça superstar's journey from the book "Planet Neymar: A Profile", by Brazilian journalist Paulo Vinícius Coelho.