Nothing to be done. It’s April 2015 and three members of FourFourTwo sit patiently in a cavernous atrium at the Camp Nou, waiting for Neymar. Two hours turn into three, morning into afternoon. Still nothing.
We’re in Barcelona to speak to the Brazilian forward ahead of the summer’s Copa America, a photoshoot and interview six months in the making. Increasingly twitchy Nike employees touch base every half an hour and re-stock a table of cured meats, pasta salad and pastries. “He definitely knows about today,” says one. A couple of hours later the update is: “We’ve sent someone to get him.”
At 9pm, Neymar and his dozen-strong entourage eventually arrive, blasting out Brazilian singer Michel Telo’s hit Ai Se Eu Te Pego on some portable speakers by way of entrance. They’re nine hours late, and we're told that some high-powered negotiations with Nike high-ups were required to prise the group from a barbecue at his mansion a few miles down the Catalan coast in Castelldefels. This is FourFourTwo’s introduction to Los Toiss, the controversial group of six (sometimes more) friends, one-time team-mates and fixers – all aged between 26 and 30 – who exist as moons to service planet Neymar.
Jo Amancio is Neymar’s oldest friend and the closest thing he has to a brother, the pair growing up together in one of Sao Paulo’s poorest districts. Gilmar Cebola Araujo has known Neymar since they were teenagers and works with one of his agent-cum-lawyers Wagner Ribeiro on Neymar’s marketing. Gustavo Almeida first met Neymar when the played futsal together aged 12 at Santos and recruits (mainly Brazilian) music artists for his superstar friend’s NRSports company, along with Cristian Guedes, another Toiss original.
Guilherme Pitta is the party guy, who arranges the group’s nocturnal activities. The only time he has failed to deliver exactly what was required was in asking Los Toiss' favourite casino to send a table to Neymar’s home, so they could play all-night poker, because it was against the law. Instead, the casino sent a croupier.
In 2013, they were just these five, welcomed with open arms by Barcelona (opens in new tab) to help their £75.1 million arrival from Santos adapt to Europe. In Catalonia, Alvaro Costa also joined, at Barça’s behest, as his personal assistant. Costa used to live in Rio de Janeiro, where he worked in sports marketing for Nike, and speaks fluent Portuguese. His father Pepe is Lionel Messi’s personal minder and closest friend, despite being more than two decades the Argentine’s senior, the plan being that the Costas could foster a genuine friendship between their two highest-profile stars. Barcelona’s problem was that Alvaro Costa and Neymar hit it off so well that when the Brazilian left for Paris Saint-Germain, Costa went with him.
Created by an honorary member called Ciao, there’s also a Toiss casual clothing brand, which has signed up a handful of Brazilian celebrities, Robinho and, you’ve guessed it, Neymar.
For all of this – which includes being thrown into swimming pools when in a semi-catatonic state after a house party – Los Toiss are paid between €4,000 and €6,000 a month (as reported (opens in new tab) by various sources (opens in new tab) in Spain). Their wages are included in his club contract, or Neymar doesn’t sign. Each member has a different letter of the word ‘amigos’ tattooed on their forearms. In many ways, it’s to his credit that he’s distributing his wealth to his closest friends and extricating some from what could have been a life of poverty.
If you want Neymar to do something, however, you need Los Toiss onside. They have the day-to-day relationship, they have his ear, they have his trust (opens in new tab), and the group use it to their advantage. They live with him, all together in the same house. They travel with him, usually on private jets, but also on chartered club flights to away games. They organise his nights out. They laugh when he laughs. They dance when he dances, which is often because Neymar loves a social media-friendly flash mob. They decide when he’s bored, like a footballing Emperor’s New Clothes. That day in 2015 with FourFourTwo, it was after a couple of hours. Barcelona got four years. Paris Saint-Germain, seemingly, just two.
The man himself is actually very accommodating, charming and surprisingly patient for one of the world’s best footballers. More than most, he actively takes an interest in what’s going on, who is doing it and makes sure he introduces himself personally to everyone. He understands that his image sells and that what he says will be dissected around the world.
His father Neymar Snr (the one person who can change his son’s mind about anything), lawyer Ribeiro and chief negotiator Pini Zahavi deal with contracts and clubs, but not Neymar’s easy state of happiness. That’s his brand’s modus operandi, especially on social media – the sweet art of doing nothing and having fun. Nike, Gillette, Panasonic, Red Bull, Replay Jeans, Police Sunglasses and more all stump up handsomely for it.
Taking their name from 'Eh Tudo Toiss', a song by Brazilian pop stars Henrique & Diego which is a colloquial way of saying “we’re us”, they are so close the Spanish press have long since described them as paisanos to the Neymar Padrone. In 2016, Barcelona tried to limit the power of the Toiss, unhappy their star’s daily routine had become play poker through the night, go straight to training, sleep until 9pm and then get back on the cards. Neymar left within a year. Now, PSG (opens in new tab) players and staff are said to have grown weary (opens in new tab) of their presence at the Camp des Loges training ground, a privilege not afforded anyone else.
On the days when Neymar does show up – in France he always gets a week off around his February birthday, with the whole squad expected to turn up to his Toiss-organised party and be at training the following day. Not even the original dream of being at the centre of the Paris social scene is enough anymore. Nor is being photographed wearing nothing but a towel for Vogue by legendary snapper Mario Testino – who has shot Madonna, Kate Moss and Princess Diana for the magazine. They want out. Hell hath no fury like a Toiss scorned.
Once the transfer happens – they earned €200,000 when he joined PSG – the Toiss will assemble for a photo opportunity. Two years ago it was on the Parc des Princes pitch, whilst in 2013 it was in the Camp Nou dugout with personalised ‘Toiss 11’ shirts.
What seemed impossible two years ago is now a reality, and Neymar may return to Barcelona. That the deal could happen is in no small part down to Los Toiss. The relationship between Alvaro and Pepe Costa has ensured that Messi and Neymar still see each other regularly and that the prodigal son will be welcomed back into the Barça dressing room, despite some initial ill-feeling.
Therein lies the problem for Barcelona’s directors. To get what you want – and Barcelona need Neymar’s anarchic talent – you have to dance with the devil. For better or worse, you can’t have one without the other.
QUIZ Can you name the 50 clubs with the most Champions League appearances since 2000? (opens in new tab)
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