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The 20-year-old forward has rejected a move to the Santiago Bernabeu and the Catalan club have now emerged as favourites in the race for his signature. Goal.com has the full story

EXCLUSIVE
By Martín del Palacio Langer | Goal.com Spain Chief Editor

It's a soap opera that has captivated the footballing world for almost three years. Fountains of ink have been emptied in publications around the globe in an attempt to predict the future destination of Neymar - the 20-year-old Brazilian forward - for whom the pick of the planet's clubs are fighting it out.

At one point, his future looked certain to be at Real Madrid, but he himself has closed that door, and his next colours now look likely to be the red and blue of Barcelona. Here, Goal.com reveals the full story behind one of the most protracted transfer tales of recent times.

Real's interest in the Brazilian forward began midway through the last decade, when a 13-year-old Neymar travelled to Madrid as the Spanish side signed Santos' star striker Robinho. Wagner Ribeiro, who represented both players, tried to tie up a deal there and then for the young forward to follow in the footsteps of his idol, and Florentino Perez was keen, only to miss out on his signing at the time due to red tape. But when Neymar blossomed years later in Santos' starting XI, Perez picked up the phone again to contact his agent.

Ribeiro was now going through a difficult situation. He had just separated from his wife, which had left him in a delicate financial predicament. In exchange for his player signing for Madrid, Florentino agreed to lend money to the agent, promising to waive the loan or further compensate Ribeiro on Neymar's eventual arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu.

From then on, the agent practically became a representative for Real, and he convinced Neymar to sign for Madrid. With the player's agreement, Florentino then offered to pay Santos the youngster's release clause, although the negotiations were complicated as Perez refused to settle the money up front, proposing instead to fund the deal in several payments over the next few years.


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But the biggest difficulty concerned the actual timing of the proposed transfer. Santos asked Madrid to let them keep Neymar until 2013, allowing him to play in the Club World Cup and take part in the club's centenary celebrations, on April 12, 2012, for which a large party is being prepared with illustrious invitees from the side's past and present. Perez refused, and demanded that the transfer be pushed through with immediate effect. And in order to unblock the complicated situation, the parties decided on a conference call, which would determine the outcome of the transfer.

It certainly did that. The participants in that call, which took place at the beginning of last year, were Florentino, Julio Senn and Jose Angel Sanchez on behalf of Madrid; Neymar, his father and representative Ribeiro as well as some other agents, and Santos president Luis Alvaro Ribeiro for the Brazilian side. At that moment, the player still had some doubts over whether it was the right time to leave Brazil, given that Santos were still seeking success in the Copa Libertadores. His father decided to express those doubts at the beginning of the meeting.

Florentino, instead of 'selling' the club to the player and the ideal surroundings that would await him and boost his career on securing his move to Spanish football, became irritated with the intervention of Neymar Senior and accused the player of "failing to understand that Real Madrid are the biggest club in the world", telling the teenager he should be grateful for his side's interest and revealing that, should the deal go through, by no means could he be guaranteed a starting spot in the first team.


There was an eerie silence on the line, lasting several seconds. Wagner Ribeiro attempted to relax the atmosphere, but was unable to do so: the relationship with Real Madrid had been damaged beyond repair


There was an eerie silence on the line, lasting several seconds. Wagner Ribeiro attempted to relax the atmosphere, but was unable to do so: the relationship had been damaged beyond repair. The player and his father were angry following the call and began to question whether a move to Europe was necessary in any case. Santos, meanwhile, decided to tie down their star for the short term at all costs and, looking to the future, opted to open the door to Sandro Rosell, who had been overlooked due to the relationship between Ribeiro and Perez.

When he found out, the Barcelona president flew to Brazil and met with Neymar and his father. He told them that at the Catalan club, the youngster would feel at home, and that they were willing to wait for him, that there was no hurry to do a deal to take the player to Spain. After that, the posture in the player's entourage changed completely. Real Madrid have not even been mentioned since, while Barca are spoken of with total admiration, with Camp Nou considered the perfect destination for the young prodigy.

Meanwhile, Santos continued to search for the money needed to hang on to their star striker. With the help of several sponsors they were able to make Neymar the biggest offer in the history of Brazilian football, and a salary only slightly less than the one offered by Perez. At the same time, with the help of the Ministry of Sport, they embarked on a charm offensive, telling the player that, should he stay, he would become the brightest Brazilian star in a country where he could take advantage of the excellent economic climate and be blessed with both huge popularity and mega-money deals through lucrative advertising contracts.


The posture in the player's entourage changed completely. Real Madrid have not even been mentioned [lately] while Barca are spoken of with total admiration


Neymar decided to accept and put pen to paper on a new contract up until 2014, with the idea of signing for a European club for free at the end of his agreement. His release clause went from €45 million to €60m, while the club's image rights over the player decreased from 30 per cent to 10 per cent and, best of all, Neymar would be disassociated from Wagner Ribeiro, ruling Real Madrid out of the race in a future deal for the forward.

However, after Santos' crushing defeat in the Club World Cup final against Barcelona, Neymar began to ask himself if it really would be beneficial to spend so much time in Brazil. Conversations took place to move forward his exit to 2013, a convenient date for the club because one year later, they would see their star player leave for nothing.

Despite media leaks indicating an agreement between Neymar and Barcelona, there is still nothing concrete, although both Rosell and the footballer are convinced that a deal will be struck - and that such a switch is merely a matter of time.

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