Pele has a message for his countryman Neymar: If you've got to leave Brazil, make sure it's for Barcelona.
Pele does, of course, have a point, and Neymar would be wise to heed the wisdom and lean on the experience of Brazilian football's elder statesman. But at the same time, Neymar should keep in mind that Barcelona aren't an entirely perfect fit.
Here's what Pele said, per the Daily Mail:
The game is tougher in England, Italy and Germany because the referees usually let play go on. Barcelona would be ideal for him.
Santos need him and for that reason I don't think he should leave but if he must go it should be to Barcelona.
Neymar, 21, turned professional with Santos in 2009 at age 17. In four-plus seasons with the Brazilian club, he has scored 129 goals.
At the international level, Neymar has made 28 senior appearances with Brazil, scoring 17 goals. He scored three goals for Brazil at the 2012 Summer Olympics, an Under-23 competition.
All those precocious accomplishments have led to an intense level of speculation in the rumor mill. The Daily Mail article linked above reports that Manchester City are lining up a £55 million bid, and Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid are reportedly interested as well.
Neymar is tied to Santos until after the 2014 World Cup (via ESPN FC), which will be held in his native Brazil. His lucrative contract puts him on comparable financial terms with European players, but the lure of top-tier football might be enough to draw Neymar across the Atlantic before then.
If so, Barcelona would indeed be a good option. Barcelona's style would be attractive to any upcoming attacker such as Neymar. And as Pele said, the Spanish league is not quite as physical as England's Premier League or Germany's Bundesliga.
But that doesn't explain why Barcelona would be a better option than Real Madrid.
Besides, it's not certain that Neymar would struggle in England, though admittedly, Neymar is rather slight in stature.
According to WhoScored.com, Neymar stands 174 centimeters (about 5'9") and weighs 54 kilograms (about 119 pounds). That's small, and he would probably need to add a few pounds to his frame. But Neymar's size is not all that different to Juan Mata's, a player who has had success at Chelsea as an attacking midfielder.
Playing in a tough league like the Premier League might not be all bad for Neymar. On the contrary, it could allow him to add a physical side to his game ahead of the World Cup. Doing so would make Neymar a more complete player, and it might also force him to bulk up a bit.
At Barca, on the other hand, Neymar would not be the team's biggest star—or even its second- or third-biggest. For a player who already has a significant media profile at age 21, that might not be a welcome change.
Of course, for a chance to play with a legend like Lionel Messi, Neymar might consent to playing second fiddle for a few seasons.
Barcelona would be a fine fit for Neymar, but despite what Pele says, it's not his only option. But until he makes a decision—whatever it is—we can only guess what Neymar thinks is best for his future.