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Neymar to join Messi at Barcelona

Lionel Messi, left, and Neymar will be teammates next season at Barcelona.

Story highlights

  • Brazilian striker Neymar will join Barcelona for the next five seasons
  • Neymar was being chased by several European clubs, including Chelsea
  • Neymar was recently named the world's most marketable athlete for a second time

Not content with having the world's best player, Lionel Messi, on their books, Barcelona have moved to sign Pele's "modern successor" -- Neymar.

A day after Bayern Munich beat Borussia Dortmund 2-1 in the Champions League final at Wembley to be crowned Kings of Europe, it was announced that the much coveted Brazilian striker would join Barcelona for five years. The transfer fee wasn't disclosed, but one Brazilian newspaper said the buyout clause surpassed $80 million.

The move, on paper, should boost a Barcelona side that features an ageing Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Carles Puyol, three club stalwarts.

Midfielder Cesc Fabregas and forward Alexis Sanchez have struggled, many would say, since joining from Arsenal and Udinese, respectively.

Barcelona might have won the Spanish league title, but it was crushed by Bayern Munich in the Champions League semifinals. The defeat stung.

Some labeled Barcelona a one-man team after losing 7-0 on aggregate, referring to four-time world player of the year Messi.

    Read: Bayern crushes Barca

    Messi was inhibited by a hamstring injury in the first leg and didn't play at all in the second. Without him, Barcelona offered little resistance.

    Pele, considered one of the greatest football players of all time, said last year that Neymar -- his fellow Brazilian -- was even better than Messi, an Argentinean.

    Barcelona lavished praise on Neymar, too.

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    "The player is known for his exquisite technical skills, which makes this free-scoring striker a nightmare for any defense," Barcelona said on its Web site. "His style is beautiful to watch and he has received recognition and praise from the legendary Pele himself, of whom many believe he is the modern successor."

    Neymar, the current South American player of the year, revitalized Santos, Pele's former club, scoring 138 goals in only 229 matches. He helped Santos win the 2011 Copa Libertadores and the 2010 Brazilian Cup.

    With Neymar expected to move on when his contract was due to expire next year, a transfer to Europe was widely anticipated.

    He had been previously linked with Barcelona, as well as Chelsea and Real Madrid, among other clubs. Last week Santos said it had accepted offers from two teams.

    At 21, he is an established international with Brazil and will be counted on to lead the nation in next year's World Cup on home soil, although he has also drawn criticism from Pele for some of his outings. Neymar struggled in the 2012 Olympic final against Mexico.

    Fellow Brazilian international Thiago Silva defended him.

    "Our biggest star nowadays is Neymar and I think people have to have a little bit more respect with the professional that is Ney," he told CNN.

    "He's a great guy with a very pure and good heart and people sometimes make things up and start talking rubbish where there's nothing to talk about.

    "I would like to ask for people to have a bit more patience with him because he's our biggest star at the moment."

    Neymar's last game for Santos comes Sunday against Flamengo as the Brazilian season's opening weekend began.

    "My feelings for the club and the fans will never change," Neymar said. "I made it sure that I play (the last match) so I can have the opportunity to once again enter the field wearing the team's jersey and to hear the (fans) chant my name.

    "Only a club like Santos FC could give me everything I have experienced on and off the field. I thank the wonderful fans who supported me even in the most difficult moments. Titles, goals, dribbling, celebrations and songs that fans created for me will be forever in my heart."

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    Neymar wasn't only a success on the pitch in Brazil.

    He earns a reported $20 million a year in salary and endorsements, and he was recently named SportsPro's most marketable athlete for a second consecutive time.

    Santos said it tried to convince Neymar to stay.

    "Every effort was made to keep him in Brazil as long as possible, even offering to renew the current contract, which ends in July 2014," Santos said in a statement.

    "At this time, however, it was not possible to compete with the terms offered from abroad, which affected the decision of the player to review his professional life."

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