The MSR advent calendar: Our favorite signings that never happened: Door 20 – Neymar
This text was written by guest author Florian Papenfuhs. Florian has done internships at Sky Sport and 11Freunde and intends to continue working in sports journalism.
“I have this information first hand. Everything is settled. Neymar has already signed with Bayern. I am not speculating, the information is watertight. From August this year, Neymar will be part of the Bayern squad. His destination will not be Spain, as many have reported, not Barcelona, not Madrid. He is going to Germany. Anyone who doubts that should just wait and see.”
These were the words of Vicente Cascione, a former official of FC Santos, Neymar’s then club, in May 2013. Many doubted, all waited, and in the end it was Barcelona.
In the spring of 2013, Jupp Heynckes, a coach universally well-liked by the club’s fans, the board, and the players guided an FC Bayern team that was at peace off the pitch and brutal on it to the first treble in their history. The dismantling of FC Barcelona in the semi-finals of the Champions League had already entered football history by the time the final whistle went, and the national balance of power was impressively corrected. It had already been clear since the winter that Jupp Heynckes was to step down to make way for Pep Guardiola. The club’s outlook could not have been brighter.
Meanwhile, at the same time as Bayern were triumphantly marching through football Europe, there was a wild scramble on the transfer market for a skinny 21-year-old Brazilian called Neymar. The left winger from Santos FC was so ridiculously talented that it was a matter of course that he was going to join a top club. Every new trick and every new goal of his got millions of views on YouTube. It quickly became clear that there was no need for a stopover at Porto or Monaco.
As soon as 2013, Neymar already had all the arrows to his bow an offensive player needed to have. He had a strong goal-drive paired with a clinical finish, and there were probably no five players in the world with better and closer ball control. In Brazil, he was seen as a saviour for the upcoming World Cup at home, in Europe as the most promising “next Pelé” since Robinho. Unsurprisingly, FC Bayern too were among his many suitors with incoming coach Pep Guardiola in particular desperate to get the elite dribbler.
Neymar would have joined what was probably the best team in Europe at the time and would still have strengthened it. In Pep’s 4-1-4-1, which he favored at the beginning, Neymar could have filled the role of the “loose cannon” next to Thiago, which was usually filled by Thomas Müller or even Mario Götze. Since Neymar often moved in the same spaces as Ribery when he was at Santos, he might have taken a little time to adjust. Pep’s system would probably have helped Neymar improve his decision-making and become an even more effective player overall. After all, in comparison to the Brazilian league, he would have got less time on the ball against better defenders in the Bundesliga most of the time.
Neymar would have shown up opposing players in the middle of the park time and again and thus helped to isolate Robben and Ribery on the wings. Another very exciting variation would have been to use Neymar as a striker as part of Pep’s new Bayern game at that time. After all, Guardiola was very successful at Barcelona with a false nine and could not do much with the bulky Mario Mandžukić. It is even possible that this variation would have induced Robert Lewandowski to substitute the Bayern shirt for that of Real a year later.
FC Bayern would have seen Neymar make an even greater impact in the marketing department than on the pitch. Neymar at Santos was the definition of hype. He already had more Facebook followers than the German record champions in 2013 and a collaboration with Pep would have definitively put the “next Messi” stamp on him. Assuming a similar development as in Barcelona, Neymar would have outshone the club at some point. After all, Neymar has an individual class that no Bayern outfield player of the last twenty years can match, perhaps with the exception of Philipp Lahm. As a result, FC Bayern would be an even better-known club today than they already are, and Neymar would possibly already have won the title of the world’s best footballer. However, the fact that such an aspiration also brings problems with it the people in charge at PSG will be the first to attest.
Probably the biggest advantage of not signing Neymar is the infinite amount of money Bayern saved. Because the world’s most expensive footballer today was not exactly cheap in 2013 either. FC Barcelona announced a transfer price of €57m. Today we know that the Neymar deal cost the Catalans a total of over €200m. The opaque contract structure of the transfer resulted in court proceedings that were still ongoing even after Neymar’s departure to PSG. The bottom line is that FC Bayern did pretty well without the polarizing ball artist and it is doubtful whether thousands of additional shirts sold and perhaps one more CL victory would have been worth the potential trouble.
Hint: After the fall of the Berlin Wall, one German manager was quick to act; tomorrow we’ll tell you about how the 90s might have turned out differently.