Most supporters view the game through the eyes of an anachronism, something that modern players such as Neymar remind us of periodically.
In our passion, we think of players as our players, warriors who, once they don the blaugrana, are here for life. Part of why we think that is the miracle of an extraordinary Masia class that has come to define not only expectations from a group of beings as capricious as children, but how a superstar player deals with his club and that status.
How lucky are we to have players, the core of the team, magnificent athletes all, who would never leave the club. It lets us laugh at transfer rumors, even when some Twitter ranter goes on about the board wanting to sell Messi, or how he should leave the club. We laugh because we know that he never will. We know that Iniesta is for life. So is Busquets, so is Pique.
In the bosom of La Masia, they learned not only how to play the game, but how to be culer.
When Sandro Rosell took over presidency of FC Barcelona, he talked of a modern club, of marketing and making the club into the cash cow that its exalted sporting status deserved. And Neymar was his icon.
When people said that Neymar was a short-timer, it is for the simple reason that the modern player is as much businessman as athlete. They know how their marketing profile is in Jakarta and Senegal, learn the value of their next team as a destination, a bloodless decision based not only in money but overall gain. Neymar came to Barça because he wanted to learn how to run a team, how to be a superstar from the best player that the game has ever seen.
Many said that in a few years, Neymar would have learned what he needed and would be ready to move on. It appears that time has come and that’s perfectly fine, because the modern game brings with it modern players, mercenaries mostly at the upper echelon who flit from club to club, for status, bigger paychecks and other things such as marketing muscle. Neymar was never culer, was never going to be a Barça lifer like the core of this great team. What is much more surprising than his leaving the club are the people who assumed that he was culer, that he was a lifer.
Neymar is a businessman. One who understands that his work at Barça is done, mostly because he wants his own project and understands that as long as Messi is at Barça, that will never be “his” team. And at the rate that Messi is defying aging, by the time Messi is ready to hang up the boots, Neymar will be, say, 29, on the outside of those prime earning years, particularly for an athlete whose physical dexterity and flexibility need the gift of youth.
What’s interesting about these rumors — the latest being that he has told teammates he will be leaving them — is the outrage that greets them. A devoted fan base that excoriated Neymar for wanting to attend his sister’s birthday party, for hair, for Instagram, for marketing — is screaming “How dare he leave us,” as if any other outcome was possible.
A player’s job is to kick ass and take names for the club that pays him. Neymar helped the team win a second treble, and helped it to a double. He stood in capably for Messi during his injury, and almost single-handedly sparked the greatest comeback in Champions League history. For those of you who, like me, have a mean streak, his was the deal that removed Sandro Rosell from the club presidency.
If you were to leave your job tomorrow, dependent upon how good you were and how long you had been there, they would have snacks and coffee to fete your departure, and wish you well in your new position. They wouldn’t snarl about you on social media, or say things such as “I knew they were no good all along.” That isn’t how business works. What we don’t fully understand is just how much of a business the modern game is, and how much of a businessman the modern elite player is.
If you were to leave your job tomorrow, what would your employer get for you? Nothing. Footballers have transfer fees. When Neymar renewed his contract, a process that included a boosted buyout clause, even as he is leaving, it’s also worth noting that the club is getting paid. Paid like a big dog. He could have shilly-shallied and waited until the next to last year of his deal, at such time making it clear that he wasn’t going to stay and forcing Barça to sell for a fee much less than he was worth. But no. He renewed, and consented to a higher clause.
Did he know he was leaving? Depends on who you ask. From this chair, he had an idea. With all the talk about MSN, it was only S who was doing headers in a hot tub with Messi during his honeymoon. N was on vacation and a promotional tour, kicking footballs at goals atop buildings on a popular late-night American talk show, and being seen at spots such as NBA games.
So many Barça supporters weren’t prepared for Neymar, the way he functioned on and off the pitch. They thought the stuff that he did was silly, snarked about the boot changes during matches that required the close-up camera shot that was marketing gold. But so what? What does it hurt? Why are our minds stuck in an era of one-club players and black leather boots?
The game has moved on. Perhaps our psyches, like Neymar, should move on as well.