Neymar is building his own empire and Barcelona and Messi were in his way

Through an official statement on Thursday, Paris Saint-Germain confirmed what has been speculated through the rumor mill over the past month. Neymar is leaving Spain for France, signing a five-year contract -- which will pay him approximately $35 million a season (after taxes) -- after the Parisian club triggered a $264 release clause. And he's not done. The Brazilian wunderkind also received a "major signing bonus in excess of his net annual sum," according to ESPNFC.

Neymar spent four seasons at Barcelona following an extremely complicated transfer from Santos -- the same Brazilian soccer factory that has produced great players like Pele and Robinho. With the Catalan giants, he won two La Liga titles, three Copa Del Rey trophies, one Champions League and a FIFA Club World Cup. Neymar shared an emotional farewell video (finally breaking his silence), in which he admits he went against his father's advice to stay in Spain. 

While it's evidently true that some shady stuff happened at Barcelona while Neymar was a player, it is extremely unfair to pin it all on him -- especially considering that Barca's transfer ban was for signing under-18 players. 

The move to Paris will obviously leave Barcelona fans with a bitter taste. It threatens everything the club stands for -- who can forget Barca's famous tagline: "Mes que un club" (English: "More than a club")? You can make the argument that since Messi's meteoric rise from La Masia youngster to star of Barcelona's senior squad, the club's homegrown pipeline of talented players has come under the threat of extinction as a result of the modern transfer market. After all, Barcelona is indeed one of the wealthiest clubs in the world. We'll know more about the state of the Blaugrana pipeline, especially now with Neymar gone, and even more so when Messi eventually hangs up his cleats.

Speaking of Barca's No. 10 ...

At Barcelona, Neymar was always going to live under the shadows of Messi, especially after the club gave the 30-year-old legend a contract extension this summer. It is easy to forget that Neymar is only five years younger than Messi. The Argentine demigod is and will always be the face of the team while he remains active and likely for some time beyond that. Fair or unfair, any of Barca's accomplishments are directly connected to No. 10. Messi had already accomplished so much before his Brazilian understudy ever got there from Santos. Here's a checklist of Messi's Barcelona trophy haul pre-Neymar: 

  • Six La Liga titles
  • Two Copa Del Reys
  • Four Spanish Supercopas
  • Three UEFA Champions League titles
  • Two UEFA Supercups
  • Two FIFA Club World Cup titles 

Now out of Messi's overwhelming shadow in France, Neymar is playing with house money. The deal will finally move the Parisian club out of the kiddie table and into the exclusive tier with Europe's giant clubs. And it's about time for Qatari businessman Nasser Al-Khelaifi's side. Neymar will live out his prime soccer years while wearing the iconic navy and red Eiffel Tower crest on his chest. As the club's biggest star, anything he accomplishes there will have a greater significance compared to his feats alongside the trio known as MSN (Messi-Suarez-Neymar).

When the deal is finally executed, Neymar's transfer and contract with PSG will more than double the world-record transfer fee set last summer when Manchester United paid a whopping $89 million fee for Paul Pogba. But don't let the $264 million release clause that the Qatari-owned club from Paris had to pay to sign Neymar fool you. Sure, Neymar wanted a raise from his $13 million a year salary with Barcelona. However, money wasn't the only deciding factor. Neymar was already one of the most marketable faces in the world of soccer. As much as I hate to use the over-used term, let's call a spade a spade -- he's the soccer star of the millennials

Throughout this entire will-he-stay-or-go soap opera in July, Neymar's 78.8 million followers on Instagram tracked his every footstep on social media to dig out clues. He never broke his silence (until he responded to Messi's Instagram farewell post on Wednesday), but he gave you an inside peak at his fabulous superstar life outside the lines of the soccer field -- something that you rarely see with his pal Messi. It's nothing new for Neymar, who we've seen the past two summers publish photos and videos with the following sports stars and celebs: Justin Bieber, Lewis Hamilton, Odell Beckham Jr., Diddy, Jackie Chan, Floyd Mayweather, Demi Lovato, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, Carmelo Anthony and Demarcus Cousins. 

Can't Stop ✋🏽Won't Stop 🤙🏽 @diddy

A post shared by Nj 🇧🇷 👻 neymarjr (@neymarjr) on

You could compare Neymar's social media and marketing empire to that of Real Madrid and Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo. But while we can't hide the fact that CR7 reportedly has a $1 billion lifetime pact with Nike, we're used to seeing him make head-scratching marketing campaigns like selling underwear and facial fitness products in Japan. 

Meanwhile, Neymar, who at some due point in time will topple Ronaldo as the new king of the Nike soccer castle, has deals with Gillette, Panasonic and Beats by Dre (owned by Apple). He was already cashing more money via promotional duties than his current Barcelona deal paid him. And perhaps that is what separates Neymar's marketability from the others. Maybe it's because the Brazilian comes from the generation of Bieber and Selena Gomez, which is something Ronaldo, seven years older than Neymar, probably couldn't relate to nearly as well. 

Neymar can come off as shy, rebellious and down to Earth at the same time. He's at times self-deprecating and gives you a peak inside his world through the lens of social media. He's got nothing to hide, and maybe that's why he has the pop culture world at the palm of his hand in ways other players -- even Messi and Ronaldo -- do not.

No, Neymar didn't betray Barcelona. There is little loyalty left in professional sports, and any franchise or club that tells you otherwise is doing so to make an extra buck through merchandise sales. Neymar was never going to be a Barca lifer -- that role already belonged to Messi. What is important to note, however, is that Neymar could have made this situation a lot worse than it played out. He remained professional throughout the entire process, attended every promotional event required of him and played every game for Barcelona during its preseason tour in the United States. He scored three goals and dished out two assists in three preseason games before flying out to China for a Barcelona event. He literally flew around the world to fulfill obligations to a club he knew he would be leaving. He could have used social media as a way to force Barcelona's hand and burn the very bridge he built on his way out of Spain. Instead, he's leaving in "good" terms. Just ask the always-classy Messi:

And lastly, a move to PSG is not going to ruin his career. Neymar's career path suggests he's outgrown his post with Barcelona and MSN alongside his role model Messi. He's accomplished just about everything he needed to accomplish in Spain, and now he wants a change of scenery ... a new home where he can become the face of a team and check off one of the few unchecked boxes remaining on his already impressive career resume -- a Ballon d'Or award. 

Neymar was shortlisted for the award in 2015, falling behind Messi and Ronaldo. Five different Brazilians have won the award, including four Barcelona players: Romario (1994), O Fenomeno Ronaldo (1996, 1997), Rivaldo (1999) and Ronaldinho (2004, 2005). The last Brazilian winner was Kaka in 2007. Messi and Neymar were always going to cannibalize votes if they remained on the same team. 

If Neymar makes another leap in Paris and manages to lead Brazil -- back from the 7-1 embarrassment to Germany at home in 2014 -- to a sixth World Cup title, then everything he's ever dreamed of will come to fruition, including breaking a 10-year drought of Brazilians not winning the Player of the Year award. 

It's a bold strategy, Ney. Let's see if it pays off. 

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