SÃO PAULO, Brazil – Santos isn’t ready to think about a future without Neymar.
The Brazilian club announced this week it hopes to begin negotiating a contract extension for its star striker, whose deal runs through the 2014 season. Neymar has been linked to more than a dozen European clubs, including Spain’s FC Barcelona and Real Madrid and England’s Chelsea. But Santos officials maintain Brazil is the place where Neymar can best showcase his world-class talent.
“Neymar is happy as a bird [here],” Santos President Luis Alvaro Ribeiro told reporters. “He is the first to arrive for training camps and he gets here 30 minutes before everyone else. He does not play like a soccer player – more like a kid in kindergarten just having fun.”
Neymar, who has 44 goals in 90 matches for Santos and eight in 15 games with the Brazilian national team, led Santos to the finals of last year’s FIFA Club World Cup and claimed the FIFA Goal of the Year award at January’s awards celebration.
But Neymar, 20, isn’t the only Santos star to garner attention from squads east of the Atlantic Ocean.
Midfielder Ganso has been linked in transfer rumors to several top clubs, including Italy’s AC Milan and England’s Tottenham Hotspurs. Ganso, however, has been slowed by injuries, as the 22-year-old has scored 10 times in 57 games with Santos and appeared in seven games for the national team.
“Injuries plagued him last year and, if I were him, I would continue doing what he is doing: returning to play with commitment and enthusiasm,” Ribeiro told reporters. “The offers will certainly come if he continues playing soccer this way. And if he wants to leave, Santos will surrender to the will of the player, while at the same time protecting the best interests of the club.”
Freddy Guarín left off Colombia national soccer team roster
Freddy Guarín will have to wait a little longer to solidify his place on the Colombian national team.
The star Inter Milan midfielder, who has been battling a calf injury, was left off his country’s roster for a friendly with Mexico in Miami on Feb. 29. Guarín is expected to return to training any day, but his lack of fitness was the big reason coach José Pekerman didn’t include him.
However, there is no shortage of talent for Pekerman to mold. Midfielder Gio Moreno of Racing Club returns to the national team and should make an excellent paring with club teammate and striker Teófilo Gutiérrez. Atlético Madrid striker Radamel Falcao also rejoins the national team after missing a recent World Cup qualifier against Argentina with an injury.
Pekerman’s other picks to face Mexico included goalkeepers David Ospina (Nice) and Luis Martínez (Once Caldas), and defenders Amaranto Perea (Atlético Madrid), Mario Yepes (Milan), Aquivaldo Mosquera (Club América), Pablo Armero (Udinese), Camilo Zúñiga (Napoli), Cristián Zapata (Villareal) and Bernardo Espinosa (Racing Santander).
The midfielders are Dorlan Pabón (Atlético Nacional), Juan Cuadrado (Lecce), Carlos Sánchez (Valenciennes), James Rodríguez (Porto), Abel Aguilar (Hercules), Elkin Soto (Mainz), Aldo Ramírez (Morelia), Gustavo Bolívar (Tolima) and Moreno.
Selected strikers include Jackson Martínez (Jaguares), Dayro Moreno (Once Caldas), Gutiérrez and Falcao.
Zapata inks deal with Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids
Luis Zapata is taking his cleats to Colorado.
The 31-year-old Colombian defender agreed to a season-long deal with Major League Soccer club Colorado Rapids this week. Zapata had spent the past season with Colombian side Deportivo Pasto and was already paying dividends on the field as he collected an assist in a preseason match against Yokohama FC last week.
“Luis is a talented and experienced left back, and his presence will strengthen our defense,” Paul Bravo, the Rapids’ technical director, told reporters. “We’ve had a chance to see how he fits into the team throughout preseason, and we’re excited to officially add him to the club.”
Zapata is best known for scoring the game-winning goal for his former team Millonarios against São Paulo FC in Brazil during the 2007 Copa Sudamericana, earning him the nickname “El Morumbi.”