Real Madrid have followed Neymar’s career as closely as anybody throughout the years, coming close to signing him on many occasions during his progress from much-hyped up-and-comer to well-paid superstar. But for one reason or another, every time Madrid thought they had finally done a deal, the Brazilian slipped through their fingers at the last.
ESPN FC looked through the archives to find seven times when Neymar almost signed for Madrid but never actually did.
1. 2006: When just a kid
Neymar’s first game on European soil was as a 14-year-old trialist for Real Madrid as part of two weeks training with Madrid’s Juvenil A youth team.
The kid impressed his coaches but not enough to persuade the club to the €60 million asking price set by his agent, Wagner Ribeiro, especially in a moment of off-pitch turmoil, as Florentino Perez had just stepped down as president (the first time around).
2. 2011: When Neymar re-signed with Santos
As Neymar came through the ranks at Santos, Madrid’s representatives remained in regular contact with his family and Ribeiro, especially after Perez’s return as club chief in 2009
In June 2011, Marca reported personal terms had been agreed with the family, though not with Santos. That October, AS claimed that Madrid agreed a fee of up to €58 million and a six-year contract worth €10 million a year was “verbally agreed.” Ironically (see below), the main thing holding up a move then was how to share the transfer fee with third-party investors.
Madrid were then shocked just a few weeks later, when Neymar signed a new contract with Santos that ran up to the 2014 World Cup.
3. 2013: When Neymar joined Barcelona
Barcelona were soon in pole position to sign the increasingly high-profile teenager, thanks to an unusual and secret “advance” of €10 million, which had been agreed with Neymar Senior in November 2011.
Both Madrid and Santos continued to negotiate, apparently thinking there was still a chance. In May 2013, Marca reported that Perez would go as far as (a then-world record) €100 million to get the then-21-year-old, along with €11 million a year in wages — more than Cristiano Ronaldo earned at the time.
The following month, Neymar was presented by a very proud Barca and explained that he had followed his heart, not his pocketbook, in choosing between the La Liga giants: “I’m really pleased these two great clubs both wanted to sign me, but I followed my heart, and here I am. We received offers of more money, but it is not just a question of money.”
4. 2016: When Neymar renewed with Barcelona
Even as Neymar settled at the Camp Nou, persistent rumours continued that Madrid’s power brokers were working behind the scenes to engineer a Luis Figo-style move across the Clasico divide.
These intensified as the Spanish and Brazilian authorities started to look into possible illegalities in his transfer from Santos. Barca directors often hinted that they felt that the very well connected Perez was instigating these court moves, an idea officially denied by Madrid in January 2014.
The ongoing legal problems were soon accompanied by speculation that Neymar Senior was looking for a pay rise for his son. In January 2016, Catalan daily Sport claimed Perez would pay a then €190m release clause and offer Neymar €35m a year, plus a €30m signing on fee.
Such leverage (also used by the Messi family on occasion) may have persuaded Barca’s board to sanction the bumper new contract signed later that year, which was to run until 2021.
5. When Neymar joined PSG
That new deal did not, of course, run its entire course. Speculation renewed during summer 2017 that Neymar would leave Barcelona. PSG were the primary suitors, but Madrid retained an interest, and had money to spend.
Neymar’s Brazil teammate Casemiro fuelled this idea during Madrid’s International Champions Cup campaign in the USA in late July.
“It is up to Neymar himself to decide his own future,” Casemiro said. “Why could he not play here at Real Madrid? He would be welcome here with us.”
6. Last January
Just months after Neymar had completed his world record €222 million move to the Parc des Princes in August, Mundo Deportivo reported that Perez remained in contact with Neymar’s camp.
By November, Madrid club captain Sergio Ramos said that PSG could be just a short stop-over. “Maybe he thought it would be easier to go through PSG first, rather than straight from Barca to Madrid,” Ramos said. “I hope so. I’d open the door if he wants to come [in the winter window].”
At December’s Ballon d’Or ceremony, where Perez was supposedly supporting Ronaldo to a fifth career title, the Bernabeu chief found himself talking publicly about how Neymar could win more individual awards at his club.
“Being at Madrid would make it easier for Neymar to win it [Ballon d’Or],” he said. “I don’t know how many Ballon d’Or winners PSG has had, very few I think.”
7. Next summer?
A January move was unrealistic, even before Madrid and PSG were drawn together in the UCL round of 16. But it will not stop the speculation continuing ahead of next summer, especially with Madrid’s (so far) disastrous 2017-18 bringing much talk of a huge shake-up at the Bernabeu, including an exit for Ronaldo.
“It would be great if Neymar came to Madrid, and I believe he would fit perfectly into the team,” Los Blancos vice-captain and Brazil left-back Marcelo said just last weekend. “The great players should play for Madrid. I believe he will one day.”
Even Neymar’s own clubmates have been unable to avoid talking about the possibility during the build-up to Wednesday’s game. “I do not know,” PSG defender (and another Brazilian) Thiago Silva said. “I cannot speak for him. I will say this: that I hope Neymar stays with us.”
None of which will have reassured PSG fans that Neymar will definitely be at their club next season. But what we can say, beyond any doubt, is that Madrid and Perez will (reportedly) be interested if he does decide to move again.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan