Santos FC is not short of heroes, boasting a plethora of Brazilian World Cup winners among its players.
Among them is the man who, even in these days of talk dominated by the mercurial Messi, can arguably be considered the best footballer to have walked the earth – Pelé.
But not even ‘’The King’’ received a statue in the club trophy room at the tender age of 19, an honour bestowed upon Santos FC’s latest rising star Neymar. While still a long way from reaching the giddy heights of a place alongside Pelé in Brazilian football’s hall of fame, it is the youngster’s financial impact that is going some way to helping Neymar get there more quickly.
Figures published by Santos in May show that since the man with South America’s most famous Mohican broke into the first team in 2009, turnover went up by 168 percent, reaching £60.1 million last year. The cash boost was enough to catapult Santos from ninth to fourth in the top 20 richest clubs in Brazil. It is no surprise then, that Santos directors have committed formidable resources to keep the 21-year old striker in the seaside town near São Paulo.
Performing on and off the pitch
It’s an investment that appears to be sound, with returns on the pitch comparable to the cash windfall off it; up to May this year Neymar had scored 106 goals in 182 games for Santos, netting an average of 26 goals per season. He has helped them to five titles, including the 2010 Brazilian Cup and the 2011 Copa Libertadores – the South American equivalent of the Champions League, which Santos had last won in 1962.
The striker is also the top scorer for the national team since the squad reshuffle post the 2010 World Cup, with nine goals in 18 matches. On top of his performances, Neymar is also an extrovert kid who doesn’t freeze like a rabbit in the headlights when in front of the cameras. His cheeky style has caught on, even with supporters of rival clubs, and his outlandish haircuts have sparked a raft of copycats.
A recent valuation by Brazilian sporting consultancy firm Pluri valuated Neymar’s footballing services at £50 million, but his indirect market value easily surpasses this figure. Santos, however, know he is young enough be worth even more soon and have been determined not to stymy their golden goose, even if it requires feeding with diamonds to fend off big team interest from Europe. Since signing a contract extension last November, Neymar is the world’s eighth highest paid player, with estimated earnings of £11.4 million per season until 2014.
Just in case any European powerhouses aren’t fazed by the wage bill, his contract also includes a gut-wrenching £53.6 million release clause, according to reports.
Tricks to sell chickens and soap opera cameos
Neymar’s earnings include money paid by at least 11 personal sponsors. He lends his Mohican and a smile to banks, socks, underwear, furniture, toiletries and car companies. Fans in South Africa could even see the striker in action despite being left out of the World Cup by then Brazilian manager Dunga; the Santos wunderkind was one of the footballers performing tricks for a Brazilian poultry company commercial aired on stadiums screens at half time.
Neymar has also performed cameos in Brazilian Soap Operas and a recent event saw him use a helicopter to commute more quickly. His ubiquity has caused some marketing experts in Brazil to issue words of advice to move abroad and expand his brand to international markets.
So far, however, there is no real reason for him to move, as an article by Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo so accurately illustrated, with a recent picture of the player lounging under the Brazilian sun on the deck of a yacht.
Santos on borrowed time
Financially happy or not, it’s not unrealistic to imagine big European guns hounding Santos again pretty soon. Neymar’s wages are met as a result of intricate commercial triangulations with sponsors, for no Brazilian club could by their own means have matched the £55,000 a week offer made by Chelsea to the striker last year. An offer that surely had something to do with his hefty renewal.
Santos know they are living on borrowed time, but are also keen to make hay while the sun shines. As well as putting more bums on seats (gate receipts rose by virtually 100% between 2009-10), the Mohican has also attracted investors and the club claims their sponsorship income ballooned by a mouthwatering 438% in the 2010-2012 period.
By refusing to sell, Santos has also created a template other Brazilian clubs should follow. Now that the financial game in the country is stronger, driven mainly by the increased valuation of TV rights, middle-sized clubs from Spain, Italy and Portugal can’t just load a truck with players anymore.
Camp Nou beckons?
Neymar is obviously a notch above many players currently plying their trade in Brazil and it certainly won’t be possible to keep him in the country forever. It’s not just about European clubs being able to afford him, but also the fact that he surely dreams of playing against the best opposition in the world.
Neymar has never hidden his admiration for Barcelona and many in Brazil bet he will be in Catalunya sooner rather than later, especially after Santos were given a drubbing by Messi, Xavi and co in the final of the last FIFA Club World Cup.
In the meantime, however Brazilian football’s hottest prospect doesn’t need to go to Spain to live the dream, at least not the part that involves fast cars and a loaded bank account…