Neymar kicked Brazil’s derby weekend off in style, Friday, with a pair of goals that turned a 1-0 Palmeiras lead into a 2-1 win for Santos. The result lifted the Peixe into the top half of the table, but with nine points separating the 2011 Copa Libertadores winners from fourth-place Vasco da Gama at the midway point of the season, Santos will be hard-pressed to qualify for the 2013 edition of South America’s most prestigious club competition.
No doubt their fortunes would have been different had Neymar not been limited to just six of the 19 matches already in the books. Since returning from the Olympics the 20-year-old forward has scored three goals in three outings (all Santos wins), picking up where he left off when he reported for international duty two months ago.
In total he has bagged 33 goals in 34 matches in all competitions this season, and if he continues at a similar pace between now and December he should have no problem eclipsing the 42 tallies he recorded in 2010.
Not coincidentally, it was in 2010 that European clubs started to get caught up in the Neymar fascination. Chelsea, in particular, made no secret of their desire to sign the then-teenager, making a series of bids for him that were seen as modest at the time, absurd in retrospect.
Given the money paid for top, young Brazilian talent during the current transfer period (Oscar from Internacional to Chelsea for £25 million; Lucas Moura from São Paulo to Paris Saint-Germain for £35 million) it’s fascinating to wonder just what sort of fee Neymar could command on the open market.
Santos, and the various third parties that own Neymar’s playing rights, would likely see anything less than £50 million as an introductory bid to test the waters. The real negotiating would probably start when an offer of around £60 million rolled in.
This is merely speculation, but PSG did set something of a precedent with their acquisition of Lucas Moura, and then there’s the fact that Neymar is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best footballer currently plying his trade outside Europe.
If he remains somehow underrated (“improperly rated” might be a better term) it’s because of his performances with the Brazilian national team that have ranged from impressive to wildly inconsistent. The Seleção, however, are at present a confused concoction of positional specialists that haven’t been properly incorporated into a team, and any shortcomings Neymar may have experienced at international level should be seen in that context.
It’s for his club that Neymar truly shines. The Brasileirão has been getting more and more competitive in recent years and it has been Neymar leading the surge. Both as a goal-scorer and a playmaker he is far and away the finest footballer in the country—a superstar whose legend continues to grow whenever he steps onto the pitch. Aside from the supernovas at Barcelona and Real Madrid, it would be difficult to find a player who has so dominated his league the last three seasons.
And yet he remains very much a Santos man.
It’s been quite some time since a European club came in for Neymar, and with attention so keenly focused on the moves of Oscar and Lucas Moura this transfer window and the likes of Bruno César, Danilo and Alex Sandro in windows prior, his name has almost been lost in all the scuttlebutt.
Not that Brasileirão fans have any problem with this. They get their best player to themselves during his formative years—perhaps even his best years—and with only a handful of clubs capable of paying the monumental fee it would take to pry him from the Vila Belmiro they’re likely to have him a good while yet.
And that’s a good thing. For the first time in a generation a Brazilian footballer is proving he doesn’t have to leave the country to be ranked among the best of the best.
Ganso: The most talked-about transfer saga in Brazil the last few days has not been the possible move of Leandro Damião to Tottenham Hotspur. Rather, it’s Paulo Henrique Ganso’s likely switch from Santos to São Paulo.
Ganso, once famously compared to Zinadine Zidane, has struggled with injuries and form since his breakout 2009 season and is thought to be agitating for an exit from the Vila Belmiro. The 22-year-old feels he was neglected by the club while recovering from a serious knee injury and was aggrieved when Neymar was awarded a lucrative new contract in 2011.
Flamengo, who are managed by former Santos boss Dorival Junior, are also rumoured to be preparing an offer for the playmaking midfielder.
Derby weekend: The most hostile of the weekend’s derbies took place in Belo Horizonte, Sunday, where Cruzeiro supporters pelted Atlético-MG’s bus with rocks before being dispersed by police using tear gas. There was drama on the field as well, and just as it looked as though Ronaldinho had handed Atlético the late win with an 89th minute goal, Mateus struck a last-gasp equaliser in stoppage time. With Fluminense’s 2-1 win at Vasco da Gama in one of the Rio derbies, Atlético-MG’s lead atop the table is now just a single point.
In Porto Alegre, Grêmio consolidated their Copa Libertadores spot with a 1-0 win over Internacional at the Beira-Rio. Leandro Damião had a quiet night for the hosts and former Manchester city midfielder Elano scored the only goal of the match after just seven minutes following a defensive mix-up in front of goalkeeper Muriel. Grêmio climbed to third place with the win—two points above Vasco.
Finally, a pair of Luis Fabiano goals overturned Corinthians’ 1-0 lead at the Pacaembu and vaulted visiting São Paulo into sixth place in the standings. Fabiano, who leads the division with nine goals, cancelled Emerson’s opener in the 23rd minute after running onto a lovely through ball from Lucas Moura.
Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer