If you want Neymar Jr. at your club, you must keep Neymar Sr. happy too
Like countless Brazilian kids for their 18th or 19th birthday, Jr. wanted a car as a coming-of-age present. It was nothing unusual, not even when his father made good performance a condition of whether he would get the gift he wanted. The difference here is that instead of university entrance exams results, Jr. would have to work with his feet.
"I told him: 'If you want the car, you've got to win the South American Under-20 tournament and be the top scorer," explained Sr.
Yes, the Junior in question is nobody less than Neymar, the forward PSG have just signed from Barcelona for the most expensive fee ever, €222m (£198m), a deal his father/influencer/representative (depending on your perspective) was instrumental in securing. Oh, and by the way, Jr. duly followed his father's orders, returning home from Peru in February 2011 with his first trophy for Brazil and the golden boot in his carry-on luggage. A few days later, legend says, there was a Porsche in the garage.
At that point, Neymar Sr. knew his kid was growing up but he still wanted to keep business as normal as possible. So he stood by the principles he put in place when, a decade earlier, it had become clear the boy had something special.
Neymar Sr. was a former professional footballer whose career never really took off. Instead, he worked in a series of menial jobs before tightening the belt even more by moving the family -- himself, his wife and their two kids -- into a single room in his mother's house on the outskirts of the seaside town of Santos in southeast Brazil.
The family spent weekends at a humble local social club where little Neymar developed a taste for futsal. At the age of 10, his fame reached Portuguesa Santista, a local football club. They managed to lure the boy to their academy but not before Neymar Sr. got them to secure his son and daughter Rafaella places in one of the town's best private schools. It was a move that in hindsight may look overzealous, but not in the 1990s, when one in five Brazilians over the age of 15 was considered illiterate.
Neymar Sr. would also be instrumental a few years later when, in 2005, his son was already in the academy at Santos FC, the club made famous by Pele. Real Madrid, in the process of bringing Robinho to the Bernabeu at the time, acted on a tip by agent Wagner Ribeiro and tried to pull off what Barca did with Lionel Messi by offering Neymar (then 13) and his family a life of comfort in Madrid. Santos put a stop to their efforts but Jr's $150 per month wage jumped to $6,000 and Neymar Sr. also secured a $325,000 "staying put" bonus.
At the same time, Neymar's father had to make sure the windfalls wouldn't be the undoing of his work with his son. Even in 2010 when Neymar was already showing he was bound to be the next big thing in Brazilian football and there were many calls for him to be included in the World Cup squad that year, Neymar Sr. had rules for his son dictating his use of jewelry and setting spending limits.
"Just because we can afford things now I will not simply allow him to burn his money," said Neymar Sr at the time. "He needs to learn the value of things."
At this point, anyone who's followed Neymar's career for the past couple of years can be forgiven if they are confused. Are these words coming from the same man who at some point was investigated by both Brazil and Spain authorities for tax evasion following Jr's controversial transfer to Barcelona in 2013? A transaction whose real values were hidden by all parts.
This explains why the very mention of Neymar Sr. leads to mixed feelings in Brazil. Make no mistake: there are those who see him as a "shady" figure using his son to cash in as fast as he can but at the same time, a book based on the father-son relationship sold tens of thousands of copies.
Even his detractors don't shy from admitting that Neymar Sr's ruthless style works well when it comes to securing deals for his son. According to the man himself in interviews with Spanish media, he tried to convince his son to stay in Barcelona but opened talks to PSG when Jr. told him he wanted a move. Barca then withheld the payment of a bonus from Neymar's contract renewal.
"I was trying to convince him [Junior] to stay, but Barcelona lost my support the moment their directors tried to blackmail me. His contract was clear [about the payment of the bonus]. My son had the right to make a decision and I changed my mind too," he told Radio COPE last Friday.
We could spend days debating if the PSG move was decided solely by the mountain of money that the club's Qatari owners were willing to spend, or if the challenge of stepping out of Messi's shadow played a relevant part. One thing seems to be for sure: life will be quite difficult for any club in the world if both Neymars are not shown some love.
Barcelona learned that lesson the hard way.
Fernando Duarte is a U.K.-based Brazilian football expert who has reported on the Selecao for over a decade. Follow him on Twitter: @Fernando_Duarte.