Decisions of Neymar, Lucas & Leandro Damiao to stay put shows European clubs no longer have first refusal on Brazil's wonderkids

Following Lucas' statement that he wishes to follow the Santos star's example, analyses why the new generation staying in Brazil is the right choice
By Daniel Edwards | South American Football Editor

The writing this time was not on the wall, but on the back of Santos' iconic white shirt. "Neymar Jr. 2014", read the legend on the back of the top the beaming teenager held up to press cameras, as he announced that he would not even consider a move across the Atlantic Ocean until after the World Cup is hosted in his home nation of Brazil.

The 19-year-old's decision is remarkable, not least because of the suitors he had enticing him to Europe. Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, two of the biggest clubs on the planet and between them winners of no less than 13 European Cup/Champions League trophies, were both keen to take Neymar away from his footballing birthplace at Vila Belmiro with promises of riches and the chance to play alongside some of the world's most feted stars.

What's more, the man moving discussions along, according to Santos president Luiz Alvaro de Oliveira Ribeiro, was none other than former Barca and Madrid striker, and Brazilian icon, Ronaldo. The fledgeling agent certainly did his career no harm by leaving his native land at just 17, and he did everything he could to convince Neymar and Santos of the benefits of following in his then-youthful footsteps.

That Neymar resisted such temptations to stay loyal is remarkable, and his decision has had a predictable effect on the other wonderkids of the Brazilian Serie A.

After the Santos man, Lucas Moura and Leandro Damiao are the most sought-after names for those watching eagerly from Europe. But while nothing has yet been put to paper and interest continues to grow, the two young stars are seemingly in no hurry to fly the nest.

"I would discuss [a new deal] with Sao Paulo. The more players who stay here, the better," the teenage Lucas asserted just days ago, despite talk of moves to Inter, Manchester United and Liverpool. He also left no doubt that his young Brazil team-mate was a key factor in his decision.

"I was happy with Neymar's news. He is a great player, an idol for the nation. Whoever enjoys football was pleased to hear it. I also like playing in my country, in Sao Paulo, being close to my friends and family."

Homes for Heroes | For the foreseeable future, home for Neymar and Damiao will be in Brazil

Figures close to Damiao have made similar noises, although the talented centre forward has kept a respectable silence on the matter. The thrust of the statements, however, is that if Internacional wish to keep their star in Porto Alegre, the No. 9 would have no hesitation in staying put.

Of course, the players' wishes are not entirely based on altruism. There are two huge practical considerations for Brazil's top talents: the upcoming World Cup and the economic boom which is slowly transforming the country.

The increased economic power is self-explanatory. Neymar was reported to be earning €6 million a year even before his latest deal was signed, wages easily equivalent to what he could receive at a top European club. The strength of the Brazilian Real and the resulting flood of television money, sponsorship and investment in the country's top clubs have made Brazil a viable choice for top players to come or stay, offering a real alternative to the traditional European move.

The spectre of 2014, however, is even more convincing. Playing at home the Brazilian public will expect to see their local heroes take the pitch against the world's best, and so Selecao hopefuls cannot do their chances any harm by staying put despite the perceived drop in quality. This has been clear ever since Mano Menezes took over at the helm; in any one starting line-up around four or five men will be representatives of local teams, although when these players are Neymar, Lucas, Ronaldinho, Damiao and Ganso it is barely a nod to mediocrity.

"I know I am making history staying at Santos... And it is not by chance. I love this club, and I love playing in Brazil"

- Neymar celebrates his new deal

One must also wonder how deep this phenomenon will stretch. Neymar is staying, but a look at the talent which streamed out of Vila Belmiro in the last transfer window shows that the Peixe are far from a position that would allow them to hold on to all their starlets. Players of the quality of Danilo, Alex Sandro, and Alan Patrick have left in 2011, while Lucas' Sao Paulo team-mate Casemiro is another starlet who could be making a move in the new year.

One of the risks of this model is that the base of talent could be sacrificed in favour of bankrolling marquee names. A similar process occurred in the last two years at Boca Juniors across the border in Argentina, where the high-profile signing of Juan Roman Riquelme led to a general weakening of the squad in order to finance the deal, and a corresponding drop in form for the formerly all-conquering outfit.

Still, the signs from Brazil are more encouraging by the day. The South American nation is still a long way from being able to compete with the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Inter, and the steady flow of players across the ocean will definitely not be drying up any time soon.

But as the immensely talented Neymar dreams of a Club World Cup meeting with the club he so recently spurned to stay loyal to Santos, and Lucas, Damiao and other starlets sit down to try and guarantee their own long-term stays, the trend is clear. The budding power of the Brazilian economy and the siren calls of World Cup glory on home soil are turning heads away from Milan or Madrid, and for the first time in a generation the progression of Canarinha wonderkids away from their homeland is no longer a foregone conclusion.

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