BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona's coach and players have lauded Brazilian sensation Neymar after his decision to join the Spanish champion over fierce rival Real Madrid.
"We have to thank Neymar for making a choice with sport in mind over economics," Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova said on Sunday in reference to Neymar's snubbing of the reportedly larger salary Madrid had offered him.
The 21-year-old striker is set to sign with Barcelona for the next five seasons on Monday.
Neymar's announcement Saturday that he would be moving to the Mediterranean came a day after Brazilian club Santos had said it had accepted offers from both Barcelona and Madrid and that the player was free to pick. The financial details of the deal with Santos have yet to be released.
"(Neymar) has chosen Barcelona because he believes that he can adapt well to this style of play," Vilanova said following Barcelona's 2-0 win at Espanyol on Sunday. "If he had been looking for money, Barcelona wouldn't have had anything to say. We are sure that he will play well in Europe and that he will help us to be a great team."
Vilanova described Neymar is "the player we were looking for," while trying to quash doubts about whether the rising star known for his flashy dribbling skills will fit in with Barcelona's honed passing game built around star Lionel Messi.
"If they say that Neymar is a 'Youtube player' it's something good because he plays great football and scores great goals," said Vilanova. "It's a dream to have this group of forwards. The more good players we have the more options we have at winning. Now we just have to combine them in the right fashion, just like we have before. We have to find the way that each player can play a leading role and have their space."
Barcelona recently clinched its fourth Spanish league title in five seasons, but its 7-0 thrashing by Bayern Munich over two legs in the Champions League semifinals meant that for the first time in five seasons it has been dethroned as the team to beat in Europe.
Neymar's signing to team up with Messi and Spanish internationals Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez is a clear message that Barcelona intends to stay on top in Spain and recover its continental crown.
Barcelona defender and fellow Brazil international Dani Alves said that Neymar "is not a pop star," while David Villa added that his arrival "is a great piece of news for all of Barcelona's fans" despite coming in direct competition with Neymar for playing time on the left side of Barcelona's attack.
Neymar's decision to leave Santos and join Barcelona instead of Madrid represents the latest in a long line of marquee transfer battles the two Spanish powerhouses have waged over the years. They date back to the 1950's when Argentina forward Alfredo Di Stefano ended up in the Spanish capital, and include David Beckham in the years of Madrid's "galaticos."
When asked if Neymar's choice of Barcelona was a setback for Madrid, club spokesman Miguel Padreza answered with a curt "he chose Barcelona and we don't have anything else to say."
Madrid defender Marcelo, an international teammate of Neymar, was more gracious.
"The truth is that I'm happy for him," Marcelo said. "He's making a jump in his career and I wish him the best."
Barcelona president Sandro Rosell, who was also credited with playing a key part in the signing of Brazil forward Ronaldinho a decade ago in 2003, said that there was still no date for Neymar's official presentation.
He also tried to downplay any duel with Madrid.
"We don't sign players with the idea of dealing a blow to anyone," Rosell said. "But rather to improve our club."