In Brazil, he’s seen as a God, a budding soccer star who can perhaps one day reach the pedestal Pelé is on.
At the moment, however, the soccer world is simply enthralled trying to figure out where Neymar will be suiting up to play club soccer this season.
Will he continue alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in one of the most deadly front lines ever assembled with FC Barcelona? Or will Neymar take his talents to France to play alongside Brazilian teammate Thiago Silva and Paris Saint Germain where he would finally be able to escape Messi’s shadow?
Whatever happens, South Florida soccer fans could still end up winners.
If the 25-year-old switches clubs early this week, he’ll play Wednesday night at Hard Rock Stadium for PSG when it takes on Champions League finalist Juventus in the International Champions Cup preseason friendly.
If he stays put, he’ll play Saturday night at Hard Rock Stadium against fellow Spanish giant Real Madrid in the latest installment of El Clasico.
But it’s a coin-flip right now where the hero of the 2016 Olympic gold medal match will be playing this coming season.
“I do not know if Neymar is coming, he did not tell me,” Silva told the French soccer website L’Equipe after PSG’s 2-1 win in penalty kicks over Roma in Detroit on Thursday in the first game of the International Champions Cup.
“When you have a project like the PSG, it’s important to have players like that. If it happens, it would be good for the group.”
Newspapers in France over the last 24 hours are saying Neymar’s transfer to PSG is a done deal. Le Parisian reported Friday evening Neymar has already begun telling select teammates with Barcelona he’s leaving and that several leaders in Barcelona’s front office believe his departure is imminent.
That, however, would totally contradict what Barcelona team president Josep Bartomeu told The Associated Press Thursday as the team prepared for its match against Juventus in East Rutherford, N.J. on Saturday night. In that game, Neymar scored two goals as Barcelona beat Juventus 2-1.
“He is not on the market,” Bartomeu said. “He has a contract for the coming four years and, of course, we count on him. He’s part of our team. He’s part of this trident.”
The sticking point, Bartomeu insists, is the nearly $260 million buyout clause PSG would have to pay to get their hands on Neymar. Bartomeu said such a move would break UEFA’s financial fair play rules.
ESPN’s best soccer reporters have gone back-and-forth with their predictions on what will happen.
“The thinking is Neymar might want to do this because obviously with Messi extending his deal [through 2021] he’s going to be playing second fiddle there at least for another 3-4 years,” Gabriele Marcotti said on ESPN FC Thursday. “At Paris Saint-Germaine he would be the main man. … My gut instincts tell me this is about getting a new deal for Neymar.”
A day later, fellow ESPN reporter Julien Laurens said “anything is possible.”
“Last summer PSG really thought they had him – they thought it was done,” Laurens said. “And he played them so well that he got a new improved deal with Barcelona. And PSG felt a bit a used and said, ‘This is never going to happen again.’ And yet here were are 12 months later in a similar situation although things are a bit different on the Neymar side of things. Neymar knows there’s no way he can win the Ballon D’or [the award given to FIFA’s top soccer player] playing alongside Messi. That’s impossible. So maybe he thinks now is the right time to leave.”
Neymar, for his part, has remained mum on the rumors. But he did provide his 77.9 million Instagram followers with the notion he’s at least thinking about what to do when he posted a photo of himself deep in thought and with a pondering emoji nearby.
What’s funny is that Neymar has always been supportive of Messi and the famed formation of the triple-headed Barca attack.
“We are scoring lots of goals, which is the most important thing, and we are winning lots of trophies,” Neymar said in May. “I learn from [Messi] every day, how he shoots, the need to stay focused throughout the match, for me it is an honor [to play alongside him].”
Before Cristiano Rinaldo led Real Madrid to last season’s La Liga title in Spain, Barcelona had won the previous two league crowns.
A split of Barcelona’s trident would be similar to the Golden State Warriors, winners of two of the last three NBA titles, splitting up. Neymar is actually a fan of the Warriors having attended the NBA Finals each of the last two years and meeting with Warriors players to trade his autographed soccer jerseys for one of their basketball signed jerseys.
Forward Draymond Green, named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year last season, told Neymar after Game 2 of the Warriors victory over Cleveland back in June he was going to be coming down to Miami to see him play.
The question now of course is which game Green will have to get tickets for.