The future of Santos star Neymar has been hotly discussed both in Europe and South America for several seasons, but there is an increasing belief that the 20-year-old’s inevitable move across the Atlantic could now be imminent.
The growing economic strength of the Brazilian game has allowed Neymar to remain in his homeland and still be one of the world’s best paid players. While, on the sporting front, there has been an argument that the dazzlingly-skilled attacker was better off staying put until Brazil host the next World Cup in 2014.
However, with his club having failed to qualify for the Copa Libertadores, which they won in 2011, and faced with little but the devalued Sao Paulo State Championship to pay for until May, Neymar may decide that the time is right to test himself regularly against the world’s elite in Europe.
Since he first burst onto the scene and was heralded as the next big star of a country that has produced some of history’s finest exponents of the beautiful game, all of Europe’s big clubs have been linked with Neymar’s signature.
In the Premier League, Chelsea have long been seen as a potential destination. The wealth of Roman Abramovich would mean affording his sure-to-be hefty transfer fee would be little problem for the current Champions League holders. With Abramovich also desiring a more aesthetically pleasing brand of soccer, Neymar would fit in nicely with the likes of his international teammate Oscar at Stamford Bridge.
Neymar told the Sun back in October that the Blues were one of the clubs that he would feel obliged to listen to if they made an offer, while adding that he had been encouraged by Oscar to join him in west London.
The two Manchester clubs also look like they would be interested. A surprise story emerged in the Sun back in September that Manchester United had made a £38 million bid for Neymar on August’s transfer deadline day.
The club’s much-criticized owners showed that they were willing to back Sir Alex Ferguson in the transfer market when they purchased Robin van Persie and a big offer for a player of Neymar’s caliber cannot be ruled out.
United’s rivals Manchester City could also be in the picture. As with Chelsea, it is likely that City would be prepared to pay what it takes to bring one of the world’s great names to the club. Earlier this month, the Daily Mirror reported that City manager Roberto Mancini had instructed his superiors to sign Neymar next summer.
Another club where money is now little object is Paris Saint-Germain and the French giants have also been linked with a move for Neymar.
In the past, Neymar has also been strongly mentioned as a target for Real Madrid, although that speculation has waned in recent times.
Much of the fluster over Neymar’s next destination could well be irrelevant, though, with increasing reports that a move to Barcelona may already be agreed.
Last month, Catalan publication Sport published an alleged document showing that €10 million (£8.1m) had already been handed over as a down payment on Neymar’s future transfer.
Barcelona, with their place as arguably the current torchbearers for the beautiful game, has long been seen as a natural fit for the talents of Neymar to be allowed to flourish.
One man that does not see the pairing as a natural fit is one of the men most responsible for Barcelona’s current brand of soccer: Johan Cruyff.
"The one department where Barcelona don't lack anything is scoring goals,” said Cruyff, to Catalunya Radio. "So if you ask me whether they need Neymar, I'm going to have to say no.""Just look at the amount of goals they score. They already have good options up front."
Despite Cruyff’s doubts, a move to the Camp Nou still appears the likeliest outcome at this stage. However, Neymar’s global standing means that his next club is likely to be speculated upon until he is unveiled with his new team colors in front of a European media circus.