Blues risk £40m in Neymar battle
SANTOS president Luis Alvaro Ribeiro yesterday made the audacious claim that five European clubs have agreed to pay the Brazilian champions the €45m buy-out clause in Neymar's contract and are now cleared to agree terms with the Brazilian boy wonder.
"We don't want to sell Neymar, but there is a contractual clause they can pay," Ribeiro said.
"Five European clubs have offered to meet this clause. I can't say which ones because that's an agreement between Santos and the clubs, but they're the most important European ones. They asked to speak to the player and we've given them permission."
Chelsea last night would neither confirm nor deny reports from Sao Paolo that they had a representative in Brazil talking to the Neymar and his agent, but they did affirm their interest in the much-hyped 19-year-old, who comes on the recommendation of Roman Abramovich's personal talent spotter, Piet de Visser.
The Blues face stiff competition for Neymar's signature from Real Madrid, who believe the young striker has the potential to become as great a player as Barcelona's Lionel Messi.
Abramovich is not afraid of spending money -- as the £50m he lavished on signing Fernando Torres six months ago proves.
And it seems he is ready to gamble another huge sum to land the teenager, who has become the new superstar of the Brazil team aiming to retain their Copa America title in Argentina next month.
Whoever lands Neymar will procure the services of an exceptional footballer -- as well as the responsibility of nurturing that talent into a genuine world star.
He is slowly winning the battle to convince doubters that he has the determination and strength to match his undoubted flair on the ball, and Neymar is still only 19, with five international appearances to his name.
Spending large sums on teenagers has not been Chelsea's style in recent years, although they did lay out £16m for John Obi Mikel in 2006, but it is a tactic that has worked well for Manchester United.
Alex Ferguson did not think twice about spending £12.25m to bring the unknown Cristiano Ronaldo, then 18, to Old Trafford in 2003; just as he did not shy away from paying out £25.6m to bring an 18-year-old Wayne Rooney to Manchester United a year later. He has now added 19-year-old Phil Jones to his squad from Blackburn Rovers, for an initial fee of £16.5m.
For Chelsea, the potential return in signing Neymar is enormous. If he justifies the hype and delivers on his potential, then he could prove to be an excellent signing.
Ronaldo's outstanding success at United has demonstrated that skilful, flair players can thrive in the Premier League, despite the image of it being a physically demanding division. Neymar showed he could handle some rough stuff when he played against Scotland in London this year.
Chelsea also already have an influential and growing group of young Brazilians that would help Neymar to settle in. Alex, David Luiz and Ramires are all in the squad, while Lucas Piazon (17) is to join in January from Sao Paolo.
The excitement surrounding Neymar is close to fever pitch in Brazil in the build-up to the Copa America.
"I prefer Neymar to Messi," said his Santos team-mate Elano, the former Manchester City midfielder.
Brazil manager Mano Menezes, who dropped Neymar for disciplinary reasons following his goalscoring debut against the US last year, has also been somewhat over the top recently.
"This is not the first time a special national team player is born. We have that privilege of having great Brazilian players, as is happening with Neymar, and thank God almost all of them got to where we hoped. We hope that will be the same with Neymar," Menezes said.
There have been enough false dawns, however, to justify Chelsea's reticence at spending upwards of £40m on such raw talent.
From Mirandinha to Denilson, there are countless Brazilian players who have packed their bags and travelled to Europe but for one reason or other have left their individual brilliance behind in South America.
Of all the cautionary tales concerning unfulfilled talent, one stands out.
A young striker known as Keirrison came from nowhere to top the Brazilian goalscoring charts at the age of 20. His performances for Coritiba and Palmeiras caught the eye of Barcelona and he moved to the Nou Camp for £12.5m in 2009, dreaming of emulating the likes of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo. Two years into his five-year deal, and Keirrison has yet to make his debut and he is now being put up for sale.
Chelsea are wise to be cautious. However, the club have done their homework on Neymar, who has the endorsement of De Visser -- a veteran talent spotter who is reputed to be the man who brought Romario and Ronaldo to PSV Eindhoven. (© Independent News Service)