Neymar Transfer Race Heating Up As Brazilian Soccer Star Nears Contract Year

Neymar and Lionel MessiFor years, Neymar has told anyone who will listen that he won’t move to Europe before the 2014 FIFA World Cup, but the Brazilian soccer star might backtrack on that pledge.

The Santos star’s recent statements suggest that he is thinking of making the jump to a top European club. He could even leave his homeland as soon as this summer.

The 21-year-old is widely regarded as the best player not playing in Europe, and many expect that he will command a transfer fee in excess of £50 million ($75.6 million). Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester City are among the leading clubs interested in signing him. Bayern Munich is reportedly ready to pay a world-record fee for a player many expect to challenge the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi for the title of “world’s greatest player.”

Neymar’s contract situation could determine his immediate future. Santos pays him handsomely (he is reportedly the seventh-highest paid player in the world), and his multiple endorsement deals allow him and his family to live comfortably in familiar surroundings. His current contract expires in 2014. Santos has offered him an extension, but he has not signed it. He says he will make up his mind about his future at the end the season (Brazil’s season ends in December), according to Football Espana.

“I will decide what to do soon,” he recently told reporters. “I will sit down with my family and with Santos.”

Sky Sports reports he also spoke about his ambition to play with the world’s best players at one of Europe’s top clubs.

“I dream of playing Europe, for a big club like Barcelona, Real Madrid and Chelsea,” he reportedly told Esporte Espetacular. “Who wouldn’t dream about playing alongside [Lionel] Messi, Xavi and [Andres] Iniesta? They’re all great players.

“[But] there’s no point in speculating when I’ll leave Santos. I’ll leave when I want to. I don’t know where I would fit in if I joined Barca but I know my place is at Santos right now.”

Since money is not Neymar’s chief concern, it’s more likely that the pull of a professional challenge will ultimately draw him to Europe. That itch could bring his departure date forward and make him reject Santos’ offer. If he does, Santos will consider transfer bids  — starting as soon as this summer — rather than watch the value of its prized asset steadily diminish as the calendar approaches 2014.

If Europe’s top clubs offer the reported amounts, Santos will more than likely accept and encourage  Neymar to take his talents across the Atlantic for all the world to see. If he signs a contract extension, expect him to continue lighting Brazilian and South American defenses for the foreseeable future.

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