Neymar says his performances have not been affected by transfer saga
The 22-year-old is saddened by how former club Santos has behaved
The Brazil international is targeting a World Cup win on home soil
He came from Brazil to leading Spanish club Barcelona in a mega-bucks transfer touted as the new Lionel Messi.
A series of niggling injuries this season put paid to any hope of Neymar living up to those high expectations, while the tax issues surrounding his complicated transfer from Santos cast a shadow over his new career in Europe.
But the Brazilian, who has managed just nine league goals for Barcelona since touching down in Catalonia, is quick to rule out any correlation – as some have done – between those off-field issues and his form in a “Blaugrana” shirt this season.
Which will be a relief to Brazil given how important Neymar is to their team and its hopes of winning the World Cup on home soil.
“No, I don’t think [it has affected my performances]. I’m used to leaving all those problems aside, I’m very relaxed when it comes to that,” said Neymar, who was talking to CNN at a Castrol Footkhana event.
“It’s unpleasant when everyone is talking about things that are not true, but on the pitch it doesn’t get in the way.”
True or not Neymar’s club is being investigated over tax fraud regarding the transfer – which Barcelona was forced to confirm actually totaled 86.2 million euros rather than the 57.1 million euros first announced – while Sandro Rosell had to step down from his role as president as controversy over the deal intensified.
Neymar’s former club Santos, meanwhile, is unhappy with how the transfer fee was divided up – with a large chunk having been paid to a company controlled by the player’s father, Neymar Snr – and has been seeking a bigger cut than the 17.1 million euros it originally received.
Earlier this year Santos president Odilio Rodrigues reportedly criticized Neymar’s father calling the deal he did with Barcelona “unacceptable.”
“I was very sad by the way that Santos handled this problem,” Neymar, who has previously defended his father’s role in the deal, said. “We hadn’t done anything wrong.
“The way that Santos handled this left me very sad, but what are you going to do? I can’t answer for them, but I can speak for myself and my dad and say that we were truly saddened by how they wanted to resolve this.”
Santos was the club that molded Neymar into the player he is today.
Making his debut in 2009 at the age of just 17 – after coming through the youth ranks – he helped lead the side to South American Copa Libertadores glory in 2011.
“What I lived at Santos will stay with me for the rest of my life, they were wonderful years where I made history. I think that won’t be erased,” he said.
“I’m sad with the board, I’m sad with who was in presidency – with those I am upset. With the club, the fans, the players? No.
“I have a lot of love for Santos, because it was a club where I was for 10 years, so my love will always be great.”
Like Neymar, Barcelona have had an up and down season, losing the Spanish Copa del Rey final to rivals Real Madrid and crashing out of the European Champions League at the quarterfinal stage, while a Spanish La Liga title looks unlikely.
Neymar, though, insists he is enjoying life at the Camp Nou, which brings with it the privilege of playing alongside one of the finest players in the world – Messi.
“Everything is going really well, I’m very happy in this city,” he said.
“[Messi and I] haven’t played all the games together but I think that the affinity that we have, that we’ve been creating, is very good. The relationship that we have, it’s been wonderful.
“Some people were saying we wouldn’t get along, and that’s been shown as being the opposite. He’s a very relaxed guy, he’s someone that I admire a lot.”
Despite the difficulties he has faced at Barcelona, Neymar still has the chance to achieve what could ultimately be his career’s crowning glory.
In six weeks’ time, the 22-year-old and his Brazil teammates will step out onto the Arena de Sao Paulo field to open the 2014 World Cup against Croatia.
The world’s most successful footballing nation will be attempting to land the sport’s biggest prize in its own backyard for the first time, roared on by an expectant set of supporters.
“It’s a dream that is about to happen and I hope that dream that I’ve always had, also happens with winning the title,” said Neymar, who led Brazil to Confederations Cup glory in 2013 having been named player of the tournament in the process.
“It’s a dream to put on the Brazil shirt, even more so at a World Cup in my own country. For me it’s a great satisfaction.”
Winning the World Cup in front of its own supporters would help banish the memories of the nation’s darkest sporting hour – letting slip a lead to allow Uruguay to become world champions in 1950, the last time the tournament was held in Brazil.
Neymar, the national team’s poster boy, is well aware of the pressure being piled on the shoulders of him and his teammates, especially given that they won the Confederations Cup in front of their own supporters last year.
But the Barcelona man, who has represented his country on 48 occasions, says he and the rest of the Brazil squad are relishing this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“I think that the responsibility that I have at the national team, like my teammates also have – each of us has their responsibility. We are a group. One needs the help of the other and we are getting ready so that we can win the World Cup,” he said.
“So close to the World Cup, every time you see a Brazilian flag or you see some action of the national team, you hear people talking about the World Cup. I can imagine myself lifting the trophy.”