London – Sometimes, life is as simple as a phone call. In Neymar and PSG’s case, it was indeed a phone call that made the biggest transfer in football history possible. After three weeks of negotiations, brainstormings, discussions and arguments, the Parisians welcomed the Brazilian superstar on Friday. And like every transfer, the inside story is the most fascinating aspect.
Neymar is a Paris Saint-Germain player, a sentence that the French club never thought people would say. It was a dream that looked unreachable, unfeasible.
PSG had tried hard last summer. They thought they had their man, one of those superstars they have been chasing for years. Instead, they were shocked when the Brazilian told them that he had changed his mind and he was signing a new deal with Barcelona.
PSG felt used, and were used, but they moved on quickly. This summer, they had forgotten about Neymar. In order of interest, their main targets were Kylian Mbappé, Alexis Sánchez, Philippe Coutinho or Sergio Agüero. They thought their nemesis was staying put. But one call changed everything.
When the Brazilian’s entourage called Nasser al-Khelaifi, the PSG chairman, to inform him that Neymar was ready to leave Barcelona, there was no hesitation. Paris needed Neymar to take their project to a new level, to reach the stars. So the secret talks started.
After renewing with the Catalan club last November, Neymar’s release clause went up from €190m to €222m. If the Parisians wanted their man, they would have to cough up the whole amount of the release clause, paying the biggest transfer fee ever. After a few internal meetings, the PSG hierarchy decided that the club could afford to recruit the superstar. They remained adamant that the commercial impact of Neymar’s arrival (shirt sales, extra ticket revenues, new sponsorship deals) would cover most of the cost of the transfer anyway. The French club did not want to be at fault with the regulations of financial fair play. They even considered at some point recruiting both Neymar and Sánchez from Arsenal before concentrating solely on the Brazilian.
The player and PSG quickly agreed on a five-year deal worth €30m net per season. Pini Zahavi, the Israeli agent, who brokered the deal for Neymar to join Barcelona from Santos in the summer 2013, was at the heart of all the negotiations. PSG’s lawyers, Nataf Fajgenbaum & Associés, drafted the contract, ready to be signed.
In Paris, Dani Alves, one of Neymar’s best friends and a former Barcelona team-mate, lobbied for his fellow Brazilian to join him in Paris where he had just signed. On July 14, Neymar returned to training with Barcelona after his holidays.
On July 18, rumors of the potential biggest transfer in history appeared for the first time on social media. Three days later, French and Catalan media stated that the deal was pretty much done. Yet it took another two weeks before it became official. Barcelona were determined to do everything they could to keep Neymar at the Camp Nou. From Lionel Messi to Luis Suárez and Gerard Piqué, they all tried to convince him to stay.
Despite the agreement being in place, the player was still not sure what to do. His father, Neymar Sr., who is the biggest influence on him, wanted him to stay in Catalonia. Neymar Jr. does not usually contradict him. He did this time.
As much as he loves Messi and loves playing with him, he wanted his own team. He wanted to be the boss, the center of attention, to be a Ballon d’Or contender. He also wanted a new challenge after winning everything possible in four seasons at Barcelona. His ambitions matched those of PSG.
There, in the dressing room, he already had some of his best friends: Not only Alves but also Lucas Moura, whom he met when they were six years old; Marquinhos, with whom he goes on holiday; and Thiago Silva, who was his captain with Brazil.
Neymar’s mind was now set on moving to the French capital. On Wednesday, he announced his decision to Barcelona. His mother and his sister flew over from Brazil to Paris. They moved into a suite at the luxurious Royal Monceau hotel in the center of the city.
Neymar, via Porto where he completed his medical, finally signed his PSG contract in Barcelona on Thursday alongside Jean-Claude Blanc, the PSG CEO and Marcos Motta, one of his lawyers. Which number will he wear? Javier Pastore, who took over the No10 shirt after the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic last summer, announced that he had given Neymar the famous number.
Everything was ready. The unveiling could start. Neymar arrived in Paris by private jet on Friday morning. The first day of his new life.
The Guardian Sport