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May 25, 2013

Barcelona: 5-year deal with Neymar

Lionel Messi is the latest Barcelona player to back Neymar's speculated transfer to the Catalan club

SAO PAULO -- Brazilian forward Neymar said he will join Barcelona after next month's Confederations Cup, the latest addition to a star-filled roster that already includes four-time FIFA Player of the Year Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta.

The decision came Saturday, a day after his Brazilian club Santos said it had accepted offers from Barcelona and Spanish rival Real Madrid. Santos said the decision was Neymar's, and he made the announcement Saturday on Twitter and other social media sites.

"My friends and my family already know of my decision," Neymar wrote. "On Monday I will sign a contract with Barcelona."

Barcelona confirmed the deal on its own Twitter account.

"FC Barcelona have reached an agreement with Santos for Neymar," said the club, which didn't give any financial details of the offer. "The Brazilian player will join FC Barcelona for the next five seasons."

Sport.es reported earlier Saturday that Barcelona will pay 25 million euros ($32.3 million) and will play two friendly matches with Santos, one in each team's stadium.

Brazilian media reported that Real Madrid was willing to pay Santos 35 million euros for Neymar.

Neymar said he will play his last match with Santos on Sunday against Flamengo in the team's first match in this year's Brazilian league.

"I want to thank Santos fans for these nine incredible years," Neymar said. "My feelings for the club and the fans will never change. I made it sure that I play (this last match) so I can have the opportunity to once again enter the field wearing the team's jersey and to hear the fan chant my name."

The 21-year-old is perhaps Brazil's key player in the Confederations Cup and in the World Cup, which the country hosts next year.

Neymar led Santos to its greatest run since Pele stopped playing for the club in the 1970s. The youngster helped Santos win the 2010 Brazilian Cup, the 2011 Copa Libertadores and three straight Sao Paulo state championships. He is the club's leading scorer in the post-Pele era with 138 goals in 229 matches.

He joins a Barcelona team with a core of players who came up through the club's youth academy, a group that includes Messi, Xavi and Iniesta plus defenders Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, midfielders Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets and Thiago Alcantera, and forward Pedro Rodriguez.

The club offered praise on its website, calling him "one of the most promising footballers on the planet." Messi was quoted as saying earlier this week that Neymar would be "a wonderful signing" for Barcelona.

Santos earlier this week reportedly rejected a 20 million euro ($25.8 million) offer made by Barcelona, saying it was too low.

The club was trying to sell Neymar before his contract ran out in six months, when Neymar would be available to sign with any club without Santos collecting a fee.

Neymar officially rejected a 35 million euro offer from Chelsea in 2010, and a year later Santos said five European teams contacted the club to try to sign the youngster, who eventually re-signed with Santos until the 2014 World Cup, with a buyout clause of 65 million euro.

Bayern Munich reportedly also was trying to sign him.

Neymar is an idol on the field and a celebrity off it in the South American country. He appears in dozens of television commercials or on billboards by sponsors that make him by far the best paid athlete in Brazil. This week he topped the list of most marketable athletes in the world in a report published by SportsPro magazine, finishing ahead of Barcelona forward Lionel Messi and golfer Rory McIlroy.

The Brazilian won FIFA's award for the best goal of the year in 2011 and was a finalist last year. He also made the best player of the year award list.

But he is also criticized by some in Europe for his dives and alleged attempts to fake injuries. Pele has repeatedly said that Neymar has the potential to be the best player in the world, even better than Messi, but he is one of the critics who recently said Neymar should try to stop diving so much.

Neymar is also criticized for disappointing performances at decisive moments with Brazil. His recent lackluster performances with the national team even attracted loud jeers from home fans.

Information from The Associated Press and Press Association was used in this report.

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