Perez's Neymar revenge: Real Madrid chief finally gets one over Barcelona with Endrick signing
Back in October, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez appeared in court to offer testimony in the case regarding alleged fraud and corruption against Neymar and his family that centred on his transfer from Santos to Barcelona in 2013.
During the trial, which earlier this week cleared Neymar of any wrongdoing, Perez admitted that Madrid made an offer of €45 million to sign the Brazilian in 2011, but conceded that Neymar - as he has always maintained - had his heart set on Barcelona.
One can imagine Perez doing so with a sense of reluctance, maybe even through gritted teeth, as he acknowledged, 11 years later, that the player he so desperately wanted to bring to Santiago Bernabeu was never going to wear a Madrid shirt.
Now, though, some of that anguish might just have been alleviated. Real Madrid announced on Thursday that they have agreed a €60 million (£52m/$64m) deal to sign teenage sensation Endrick. The Palmeiras striker is regarded as the best young player in Brazil, with whispers that he might just be as good as Neymar.
Barcelona knew as much, and were desperate to bring Endrick to Camp Nou. "He is the kind of player that we need," Blaugrana boss Xavi said in late November after holding talks with the teenager's father. "He already knows the project we have at Barcelona and we are talking. I hope he becomes our player."
And so, 11 years on from Neymar rejecting Madrid before going on to join their biggest rivals, this feels like revenge from Perez, and the end game to a change of strategy that is already bearing fruit.
After Neymar joined Barca, Madrid’s transfer policy slowly shifted. 'Galacticos' at their peak were seldom purchased. The big-name signings that did arrive - James Rodriguez, Toni Kroos, Gareth Bale - were all yet to hit their best years.
Instead, there was an emphasis on young stars. A club once known for its signing ready-made Ballon d'Or contenders and global superstars instead began looking for players who could grow into those household names.
Steadily, they brought in a slew of highly-rated teenagers. There was Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo. Martin Odegaard and Eduardo Camavinga. Marco Asensio, Reiner and Take Kubo, to name just a few.
These individuals were signed not only for their footballing promise, but also because of what they represented. Neymar had gotten away. Perez wasn’t going to miss out on the next Neymar.
Not all of them worked out as Perez would have hoped. Odegaard, who had attracted attention from almost all of Europe's biggest clubs at the age of 15, was a player many assumed was soon to be among the world’s best.
Madrid paid a reported €4m for his services and immediately sent him into the youth ranks, but he was dropped from the Real Madrid Castilla line up in March 2015 and struggled for form. He finally made his first-team debut in November 2016, but the following year he was sent out on the first of what turned into a string of loan moves.
In the end, his only goal at the Bernabeu before leaving to join Arsenal came against Madrid as part of a 4-3 win for Real Sociedad in the Copa Del Rey.
Kubo was another failure. He was perhaps even more appealing than Odegaard, having been part of the Barcelona academy before he was forced to return to his native Japan after FIFA banned the Catalan club from registering new players
Upon arriving at Madrid in the summer of 2019, Kubo joined the Madrid first team and impressed on their pre-season tour of the United States. But a loan deal inevitably came a few weeks later, and three years on, he left permanently for Real Sociedad after failing to make a senior appearance.
More recently, though, there have been successes. Vinicius was plucked from Flamengo for €46m just 10 days after he made his senior debut for the Brazilian giants. And although it took him three years to settle in Madrid, the winger is now considered among the best in the world at his position.
Fellow Brazilian Rodrygo has also found a rol. Signed a year after Vinicius for a similarly gaudy fee, the winger was given more time to find his feet before, in 2021-22, he enjoyed a breakout season, scoring nine goals in 49 appearances across all competitions.
But there hasn’t quite been a player like Endrick before. The numbers are mind-blowing for one so young: 170 goals in his past five seasons of youth-team action, and three strikes in his first six games for the first team as he helped them seal the league title.
Already a member of Brazil' Under-20s squad, Barca would have loved to have got their hands on yet another samba starlet. So too would Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and a host of other clubs who were linked with his signature.
Instead though, it was Madrid, whose ability to show there is a pathway for young players to make it into the first team at one of the world's biggest clubs was surely a key factor in selling Endrick on the deal.
Time will tell as to whether Madrid have signed the next Neymar, but they have at least beaten Barcelona to his signature. And after 11 long years, that might be enough for Florentino Perez.