From the streets of Sao Paulo to the most expensive player in the world, Neymar's rise to the top of professional football has been exhilarating to watch since he burst onto the scene as a teenager with Santos. But he has not got there alone.
Every step of the way he has had father Neymar Santos Sr. watching his back. And now, with a €222 million move to Paris Saint-Germain that will shatter the existing transfer record imminent, the family patriarch's master plan for his son to dominate has finally entered its final phase. Along the way both father and son have made an incredible amount of money, and picked up their fair share of criticism - some of it warranted, some borne of envy for their incredible rise from poverty to unimaginable riches.
But who is the man behind the curtain? For better or worse Neymar Sr. has been there with the Barcelona forward every step of the way, with only one goal - make his progeny the ultimate football megastar.
Football runs in the Neymar blood. The star's father was also a professional, albeit of the journeyman type that abound in the immense lower reaches of the Brazilian pyramid. When Jr. was born Neymar Sr. was playing out his final years in Mogi das Cruzes, a sprawling industrial suburb located on the outer reaches of the Sao Paulo metropolis.
An undistinguished individual on the pitch, upon retirement he diverted all his energies into his son. In 2003 the family moved twice, first to Sao Vicente and then to the port city of Santos, where Neymar Jr. began starring for the youth ranks of the team that carries the same name. Even at the tender age of 15 Neymar was an outrageous talent, and just two years later had signed his first pro deal with the Peixe and was already being followed by major national sponsors.
Through it all, his father was at his side; first with infamous agent Wagner Ribeiro, and later deciding to manage Jr's affairs on his own. "I am no longer Neymar's agent. It's his father now. But's it's true that we do work together because we are close by," the agent, who was sentenced to five years in jail for tax evasion in his native Brazil in June, told UOL recently.
"I was his agent since he was 12 and I negotiated two contracts for him with Santos. But when he grew up, his father took control of everything through his companies.
"Neymar is like a son to me. His father is trustworthy and I like and respect him."
Indeed, while opinions on Neymar Sr. may be divided, even his fiercest critics highlight the intense, unconditional protection he has lent his son since he first had a ball at his feet. Muricy Ramalho, the coach who took Neymar and Santos to the Copa Libertadores title in 2011 and coached the young phenomenon for two years, has no doubts over the importance his father has had in the star's career.
"We spoke a lot with his father before he went to Barca, and he takes great care of Neymar's professional and commercial life. He put everything into place for Neymar to become the best in the world," Ramalho, now a television commentator in Brazil, explained to Goal . He went on to clarify that Neymar Sr.'s interest in his son's career never stepped across the boundaries of the pitch.
"Neymar's father is very important to his career. But he always respected me as a trainer, I never had problems with him.
"I never had a single problem working with Neymar because he is a great professional, and the people who look after his career are very organised."
Not all Santos coaches, however, had the same experience as the famously no-nonsense Ramalho. Dorival Junior was the first trainer to give Neymar a starring role, teaming him in an electric forward partnership that included Robinho and Ganso which streaked to victory in the 2010 Paulista Championship. But in September of the same year he was summarily sacked after an on-pitch altercation with the teenager over the taking of a penalty.
"He lost control in the moment but it was all worked out. I left because I did not like the directors' reaction, not Neymar's," Dorival would tell Sport years later, with Neymar already in Barcelona and a Brazilian national icon, but it is not how most recall the incident. What is undeniable is that the day after the coach was removed Neymar was back in the team, having been dropped for his insubordination by the departing Dorival.
Santos was always to be the first stepping stone for Neymar in his father's big plan. Copa Libertadores victory and a date with Barcelona in the 2011 Club World Cup proved the high-water mark for him at the Peixe; from there it was only a matter of time before a lucrative move to Europe beckoned.
The details of that Barcelona transfer, and the resulting legal wranglings that still go on today, have been covered in great detail elsewhere and need not be elaborated on here. But it was Wagner Ribeiro and Neymar Sr. who were in the thick of negotiations, having previously portioned out their client's contract like so many slices of cake to hungry sponsors and investors. With that move alone Neymar Sr. made him and his family rich beyond their wildest dreams, a wealth that will only escalate once the ink goes dry on the estimated €30m a year contract the forward will soon be signing in Paris. In a deal capable of funding the health service of a small nation, his father's cut alone will reportedly come to €60m.Getty/Goal composite
"We did not start at zero - we started at minus five," Neymar Sr. told AP of his son's first years on this planet. The patriarch could have settled into mediocrity, scratching a living as most retired players do - "It would have been the easiest thing to do" - but instead, with a great eye for talent and incredible determination, he strived to give his son all he needed to make it bigger than he had.
That sacrifice has obviously not gone without reward, but painting Neymar Sr. as merely an inveterate money-grubber would be only to tell half the story. He recalls proudly how when Real Madrid came knocking for his 14-year-old son, he sent them packing: "We're from a humble family, and in a humble family there is always the question of cultural values. We thought he had to grow up in Brazil. That was the first serious choice we had to make."
Or perhaps, in the impossibly astute brain of Neymar Sr, the opportunity to make his son a truly Brazilian star, rather than just another hopeful slogging through Castilla, already appeared a safer future bet. It is impossible to tell, but the gamble, like most of the others he has made in his son's career, paid handsome dividends.
As Neymar Jr. prepares to become the standard-bearer for Paris Saint-Germain, the world's most valuable player and a direct competitor for the Ballon d'Or award so greedily hoarded by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo over the past decade, the final phase of his father's plans for world domination continues perfectly on course.