When FC Barcelona struck a deal to acquire Brazilian football sensation Neymar Santos Jr. last summer, it was believed he would become the future of their world famous offense. Ironically, the same transfer that brought Brazil's #10 over from Brazilian football club Santos FC has pushed the team into a defensive position.
When Sandro Rosell, then president of FC Barcelona, first announced the €57.1 million acquisition of Neymar, it was hailed as a "golazo" – a brilliant goal – for the La Liga side. The particulars of the transfer, however, initially were shrouded in mystery, as Rosell invoked confidentiality obligations when asked for a breakdown of the finances. Rosell's evasiveness, coupled with the relative bargain at which they acquired Neymar, led many observers to believe that Barca's golazo may have been offside.
The first half of what has become known as "Neymar-gate" kicked off when FC Barcelona club member Jordi Cases accused Rosell of misappropriating €40 million in connection with the deal (Reader's Note: FC Barcelona is owned by more than 160,000 members who elect a president and governing board). To avoid scoring a devastating own goal against his own club, Cases made certain to clarify that the suit was brought personally against Rosell and not Barcelona. Rosell denied the accusations and remained adamant about the price: "The cost was €57.1m, y punto" (€57.1m, nothing more). However, it was later revealed that €40 million was paid as a "penalty" to N&N, a company owned by Neymar's father that held the player's economic rights. The penalty was triggered by a clause in a 2011 agreement between FC Barcelona and N&N because Barca signed Neymar one year earlier than the previously agreed time.
Soon after, a Madrid public prosecutor drew up a report saying that there were grounds to suspect "simulated contracts." The prosecutor also expressed doubts about the amount received by Santos and requested that all paperwork related to the transaction be handed over. Barca quickly complied with the prosecutor's request and with the world's attention trained on his dealings, Rosell subbed himself off the field – resigning from his post as president of FC Barcleona and elevating Josep Maria Bartomeu to his position. In hisparting shot, Rosell defended his actions and claimed that the allegations were rooted in "despair and envy in some of [Barcelona's] adversaries." A day after Rosell's resignation, his successor Bartomeu admitted that the club actually paid €86.2 million to secure Neymar (more if you include Neymar's five-year, €44m salary), and released a breakdown of the costs for the transfer, signing fees, commission, payment to N&N, operating and marketing costs, Brazilian scouting deals and a performance bonus. The club, however, maintained that only €57.1 million of that amount was for the "transfer itself."
In light of Barca's clarification and Rosell's resignation, Cases dropped the suit against Rosell. The Spanish prosecutor's office was not mollified quite as easily, petitioning Spain's High Court to name FC Barcelona as a suspect in the Neymar case, based on its contention that €9.1 million in taxes is owed on the "penalty" payments made to N&N as part of the transaction. Judge Pablo Ruz accepted that the payment "could correspond, in its true nature, to a big remuneration to the player," which would therefore make it subject to Spanish income tax, and issued a yellow card, charging FC Barcelona with infringement against the tax authority.
In response, FC Barcelona released a statement maintaining that all aspects of the complex transfer were by the book, and expressed their willingness to cooperate with authorities. Barca followed up this proactive stance by paying a "complimentary" €13.5 million to the Spanish treasury to cover any "eventual interpretations that could come out of the contracts signed relating to the transfer."
Judge Pablo Ruz now has called for club representatives and former president Sandro Rosell to "quantify the amount withheld by FC Barcelona for the income payable in relation to the professional athlete Neymar Da Silva Santos for Income Tax of Non-Residents (IRNR) and (regular) income tax," according to a court order. The judge also has issued a summons for Neymar's father to appear in court and turn over contracts and documents related to his son's signing with Barca.
Like a goalie defending against penalty kicks, Rosell must come up with the right response to the barrage of questions Spanish officials will direct his way. Barca fans must now hope that their club, whose motto is Més que un clube ("More than a club"), plays much better defense than Brazil's national team at this year's World Cup.