Neymar da Silva Santos Junior has become the world’s most expensive footballer after completing a €222 million move to Paris Saint-Germain from Barcelona.
The huge price for the 25-year-old has sparked debate over the sport’s escalating transfer fees and, although he was destined for the top from an early age, Neymar could surely never have foreseen the unfathomable riches that lay ahead when he first started kicking a ball on the streets of Brazil.
The only son of Neymar Santos Sr, a former professional footballer himself, and Nadine da Silva was born on February 5, 1992 in Mogi das Cruzes, a small city 40 kilometres east of Sao Paulo.
He has a younger sister, Rafaella, and the family ties are extremely close. Neymar Sr has been both a mentor and coach to his son – he continues to work as the player’s agent – while Neymar Jr has a tattoo of his sister’s face on his right arm and she has her brother’s eyes inked onto her left arm.
Neymar inherited his father’s footballing skills but it was his movement which set him apart from the other boys at his local club.
By the age of 11, Neymar was the worst-kept secret in Brazil. He was hounded by scouts from all the country’s top teams and his four-year stay with first club Portuguesa Santista would soon end.
He had already fallen in love with his boyhood club Santos and Brazil great Zico had little trouble persuading him to sign for them in 2003.
Neymar dazzled through the age groups at Santos and talk of his talent soon reached Europe, with Real Madrid offering him the chance to join their academy when he was 14, but he turned them down after Santos offered him more money.
Santos handed Neymar his senior debut aged 17 in 2009 and over the next four years he scored 54 goals in 103 appearances for the club.
He helped them win successive Campeonato Paulista titles, the Copa do Brasil, and the 2011 Copa Libertadores – Santos’ first continental title since 1963 – and was voted South American footballer of the year in both 2011 and 2012.
Neymar was a phenomenon. He cut his own hair Mohawk-style when he was 18, which set a new trend throughout Brazil and, when left out of the squad for 2010 World Cup finals, 14,000 fans signed a petition in a bid to get him included.
He was 19 when his ex-girlfriend Carol Dantas gave birth to his son, David Lucca, and they both moved to Barcelona to be closer to Neymar when the inevitable move to Europe was completed in 2013.
Neymar is an Evangelical Christian and places great store in his faith. “Life only makes sense when our highest ideal is to serve Christ,” he once said in an interview.
He has never been shy about cashing in on his stardom and endorses more than a dozen products, including a bank, a car manufacturer and perfume, and this year he was placed third on Forbes magazine’s list of the highest-paid footballers behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Now he has swapped the Nou Camp for the Parc des Princes, he could well eclipse both next year.