This essay is the fourth entry into Issue 3 of Omakase Magazine: “Story,” which will be running during October and November. To learn more about this issue, check out our Letter from the Editor.
On August 3rd, Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior ceased to be an employee FC Barcelona. After a saga that was at once drippingly slow and also surprisingly hasty, the Brazilian and the football club Paris Saint-Germain triggered his 222 million euro buyout clause, an astounding amount by any standard, cutting ties with his second professional club.
Drama ensued, and everyone handled it as gracefully as you might expect (cut to: pictures of burning jerseys, sad teammates, angry executives—you know the drill). La Liga made a special point to turn down the money (who wouldn’t!) and sent Neymar and his team instead to the FCB headquarters, like sending a high schooler to the coach to tell him he’s quitting the team (bad metaphor: that’s pretty much exactly what happened here). Is the drama any more warranted because this is a place of work? Because Neymar is a professional, and Josep Bartomeu wears a suit, and there’s money involved?
He’s 25, a kid. He’s in a foreign land. He makes a slightly higher salary than I do [ed.—sure], but he breathes the same air, he eats, and he bleeds. I’m not asking you to feel bad for him, that isn’t my goal. Maybe he’s fine and he’s smiling right now and I’m wasting my time. Maybe he’s scared and spent and I’m still wasting my time.
Let me project for a minute.
There’s a point in your life when you start to think about things beyond the day-to-day minutiae of tasks and practice, and move on to something larger. You’ve figured out how to use the clutch—now it’s time to steer the thing. Maybe you hit it when you’re 15 or 25 or 50, but eventually, you start to think about your place, your role, your legacy.
This looks different for everyone, I expect. Transfer schools; start a charity; buy a Porsche, whatever. Regrettably, this often becomes a point of judgement for outsiders. Why else do we call it a midlife “crisis”? The idea of the quarter-life crisis, however real or imagined it may be, has been around for a while, but it looks a bit different now. Sometimes it’s a moment of genuine self-realization (the type you see in, say, Judd Apatow movies), but sometimes it’s as banal as deciding to move, or changing jobs, or selling your car.
Moments of crisis, or of self-actualization (or both) aren’t generally as clean as they're depicted in the movies; they aren’t finished in an hour and forty minutes. Moving is a grind, emotional, and changing jobs nearly always comes with at least one uncomfortable conversation. Somehow, it will drag on. Applications, interviews, two-weeks-notices, it all takes a while, and the whole time you’re in the untenable situation of being past your due date.
It confuses everything. This is maybe not a story of a kid blinded by money and fame and potential, although it lies just parallel to these. He’s likely trying to keep up with the ringing in his ears, trying to reconcile the competing interests of those around him, and the feedback from people both important and unimportant, hitting him at just the time he’s begun to think about the larger direction his life is taking. Have you seen his interviews? Is he scared? Is the smile genuine? Of course we don’t know. So instead of speculating more, we can nail down what we do know for a fact, like that 222 million euros is a lot of money to live up to and that in transferring he has ceded more control to his critics (and added many more that previously didn’t exist in the Catalan capital). We know exactly what his post-tax salary will be, just as sure as he knows that the first question from an interviewer will be whether he did this for the money.
Maybe he was just ready to go. When he says that 1) I love playing with Messi (his childhood idol and best player in the world right now [fight me]) and 2) I need to go off and play not with Messi, many see these two as unsound, simplifying this position to a degree. I love this/I need this/I’m enjoying this, but, it is time to start the next phase in my career.
Is this view impatient? Perhaps. But the fault is perhaps not on Neymar in being impatient, but the assumption by everyone else that impatience by a 25-year-old professional is solely a bad thing. Impatience isn’t always simply a bargaining chip, but perhaps a plea for sanity, for sustained mental health. “It’s time for a change” isn’t always a call to arms; maybe, for once, it’s just a statement of fact.
I’ve never met Neymar, and neither have you. I hope this was less a remote diagnosis, and more of a jumping off point to ask more important questions, not just about Neymar, but of ourselves. Like: should we reconsider our scale when we judge a move like Neymar’s as both a sign of shortsightedness in an adult and also eagerness on the part of a “kid”? Is it disingenuous to press a young professional on how money played into his decision-making process when, at the same time, it is just taken as an assumption that PSG purchased an asset to produce a greater return for investors?
Reading the coverage of a very unique (and yet, not) transfer saga perked up my Millennial defenses a little more than normal. We won’t know the full story of Neymar’s career (and perhaps his potential) for years, yet that won’t stop the punditry, the rumors, the opinion column inches. But maybe, slowly, we can start to look at these stories of transition as though the subjects are humans and not assets. Some have found a way to voice what these life events are really like, but most won’t or can’t. It’s up to us to try and understand the stories behind the labor.