Chelsea may have a reason to feel a little aggrieved – and it’s apparently all the fault of greatest player in the history of football. Yes, Pele himself may be the reason why the Blues failed to get their hands on a certain Brazilian who’s doing rather well at this World Cup – Neymar.
The tale of how Neymar turned down a move to Chelsea four years ago has emerged in his autobiography. In truth, Blues fans who were following the saga of the club’s tentative attempts to land a player who even then labelled was “the next Pele” may be aware of some of the details. But this is the first time they’ve been confirmed by anyone directly involved in the negotiations.
The story goes something like this. Back in 2010, Chelsea had had their attention caught by a young Santos player who was setting all sorts of goal-scoring records. He possessed outrageous ball skills, matched only by his outrageous haircut, ego and ability to cause trouble. Real Madrid were also interested, but Chelsea were determined to outbid them and bring this talented youngster to Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea made formal contact with the Brazilian club, and agreed a big transfer fee (the actual figure has never been revealed). Neymar was given the choice – to stay at Santos or move to one of the biggest clubs in Europe, while still just a teenager.
He takes up the tale: “My father and I had a meeting with president Luis Álvaro at the Santos headquarters… In the middle of our conversation, the president turned off the lights and pointed at an empty chair. ‘This is the chair of the great national sports hero. Since Ayrton Senna’s death, this chair is vacant. If Neymar stays in Santos and refuses Chelsea’s proposal, he will give his first step to sit in this chair.’ That made us think. That decision would be a turning point in my life.”
But there was more pressure to come. “Even Pele called me. Can you imagine how important I felt? The King of Football called and asked me to stay. He reminded me of his entire career with Santos, his five world titles with the national team and the club, and all the recognition he received. It wasn’t easy but it was the right decision for us. We did the right thing for our family, friends and my career.”
And so Neymar turned Chelsea down to stay in Brazil – but only for a couple more years as it turned out. Pele certainly didn’t seem to have the same qualms about Neymar moving to Barcelona for an even bigger amount of money. Or if he did, Neymar was no longer listening.
You have to wonder what Pele has against Chelsea, or perhaps English football. Had the old Viagra salesman given his blessing to the move, we could have witnessed Neymar’s fantastic skills in the Premier League. As it is, they’re gracing La Liga instead. Our loss, they’re gain. Thanks Pele.