Delcir Sonda is not an easy man to get hold of. The founder of the Sonda supermarket chain and investment group DIS Esporte has become a genuine source of concern to Neymar and FC Barcelona after lodging a lawsuit in the Spanish High Court over the player’s transfer from Santos to the Camp Nou in 2013. Sonda, an energetic businessman who has traditionally avoided speaking in the press, gave an exclusive interview to AS to lay out the details behind what is set to become the biggest football court case of the year.
Let’s start from the beginning: how did you first come to know Neymar?
To tell you that I would first have to explain how I came to be involved in the world of football…
I am a Gaúcho, from the south of Brazil. That is where I started out at the bottom, working out of a van with my brother. Now we have a company with 12,000 employees. I have worked all my life but my passion has always been football and in particular Inter de Porto Alegre. It was in 2000 when I joined the board of directors of Inter.
And how did that go?
Very well. We set up a system of operation that allowed us to win the Copa Libertadores and, in an unprecedented miracle, to beat Barcelona in the Club World Cup. I was a close friend of the president of Santos and he asked me if I could install the same system there.
"I fell in love the first time I saw Neymar play"
And that is where you were introduced to Neymar…
When I was working with Santos we talked about Neymar, an incredible player. I fell in love the first time I saw him play. I have seen a lot of young players in my time but Neymar was without doubt the best of them all. He will go on to be the second best Brazilian player in history.
Was it at that time when you created an investment that bought 40 percent of Neymar’s rights?
No. DIS had existed for some time previously because every time we open a new supermarket we set up a football team for the kids in the neighbourhood as part of our social commitment. That was an ongoing project and what happened is that there came a moment when Santos couldn’t meet what Neymar was asking financially. And he hadn’t even played for the first team yet! He wasn’t even a professional! And we came up with a solution.
We paid Neymar two million euros. That was equivalent to what he would have earned in 18 years on the salary he was on then. It didn’t matter that he might have been injured, have left the game or because of bad influences, as has happened so many times, did not reach the top. We took a gamble on him and we acquired 40 percent of his rights. From that point on, I started to treat him as though he were my own son.
"We were like family"
In what way?
I made sure that his family didn’t want for anything. He was always at my house. I had a cabin reserved for him and his family on my boat and I paid for them to go on holiday to London and Jerusalem to see a bit of the world. I also hired two people to take care of him full time. One of them, Donato, was the chauffeur who would go and pick him up from his home and take him to training or to my ranch in Porto Alegre, where like good Gaúchos we’d have barbecues. We were like family and his son had a lot do with that at that point in his life.
The mother of his son is Donato’s cousin, the chauffeur that I hired.
And now he claims that he does not know you. Is that what hurts the most?
It broke my heart. How could he say that? I can only assume it is because of his father’s influence. From the outset his father was a bad influence on him. Neymar’s father is what we in Brazil call a vagabundo [a bum]; thanks to his son he was made rich overnight. The greed of that man will lead Neymar down a bad path. He took advantage of his son from the word go.
"Neymar's father kept half of the money from his advertising deals"
Do you have proof of that?
Look, Neymar signed a lot of sponsorship and advertising deals and he only ever received half of the money, but he was not aware of that. His father kept it. He found about it one day when he did an advert for Gillette with Ganso, who was his friend. When they talked Neymar realized that Ganso was getting paid more than him. He came to ask me why that was; why Ganso was getting more than him, and then we discovered that his father was keeping half of the money. And it was the same with all of the contracts. At that time, Neymar distanced himself a little from his father but now I see that they are very close again.
Have you spoken to Neymar or his father again?
The last time I spoke to Neymar’s father was when he came to see me with Wagner Ribeiro to try and buy our share of Neymar’s rights for five million euros. That made me suspect that there was a club interested in signing him, that they wanted to try and go back on the original agreement.
When Neymar’s rights were split between Santos, DIS and Teisa, we all agreed that we would inform everybody else about any offer within 48 hours to be able to evaluate it. They had already received an offer and started their strategy to trick us.
"Neymar said yes to Real Madrid's offer"
Did the offer come from Barcelona?
No, it was Real Madrid who first came in for Neymar. And Neymar said yes to the offer. He even underwent a medical in a clinic that belongs to a friend of mine; they were not very clever about it. Madrid were willing to pay his release clause of 65 million euros plus 10 more on top.
And so how did he end up at Barcelona?
Because Sandro Rosell, to put it bluntly, bribed Neymar’s father. That is the charge of corruption between individuals that we are accusing them of. [Neymar’s father] received 10 million euros, which was dressed up at first as a loan. Barça later had to accept in court that they are “a football club, not Banco Santander.” So it was clearly not a loan.
And was Neymar aware of this?
Neymar had signed 17 documents on paper with the official Barcelona letterhead and had been paid money by Barcelona while still a Santos player. Ethically, that is not right. He played in the final of the Club World Cup in Japan [for Santos against Barcelona] having been paid by Barcelona.
What part did current Barça president Josep Maria Bartomeu play?
His signature appears 169 times in the contracts. Nobody has explained to us why the public prosecutor did not indict him.
"The case is very clear; they tried to defraud us"
Did you have any doubts before presenting your lawsuit?
No. When we saw that an injustice had been committed we asked for reparation of the damages. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth because I thought very highly of Neymar but the case is very clear. They tried to defraud us.
Are you concerned about a public backlash against your business interests by pursuing an idol in Brazil through the courts?
We haven’t done anything wrong. We do a lot for Brazilian football, we have hundreds of players, kids playing football and we do a lot of social work. It is Neymar who has let them down.
Can you bring yourself to forgive him?
I could come to forgive Neymar but his father? Never.
Would you accept a deal?
We are not here for money. We want the original contract to be honoured, under the terms of which we are entitled to 40 percent of the transfer fee. We are seeking justice. It is too late for deals. It has become abundantly clear that the figure is higher than 17.1 million euros.
But a Spanish judge has ruled that the 40 million euros given to Neymar’s father was a salary, not a transfer fee. Doesn’t that close the case?
Not at all. We are stating that the transaction should have been carried out based on the release clause of 65 million euros. Those 40 million euros are nothing more than a bribe so that Neymar’s father would sell a right that wasn’t his. They altered the market to their liking by means of corruption. We are not claiming against that 40 million, which demonstrates that Barcelona acted in bad faith from the outset.
"Rosell is an opportunist"
Have you made any contact with Barcelona to try and avoid going to court?
Sandro Rosell tried a couple of times to speak to me when he was president. Once in London, coinciding with a game between England and Brazil, my good friend the president of Inter de Porto Alegre said to me: ‘You have to sit down with Rosell for a coffee. He is here and he wants to speak to you.’ He sent a friend of mine as though he was a messenger. That was not right. I did not go and he tried a second time.
When was that?
Rosell got hold of my home telephone number and he called me to see how we could find a solution and I think he talked about a figure of six million euros. And that was before we had filed the suit. I think that at that time he knew he had done something wrong and he wanted to try and smooth it over. On another occasion André Cury [Barcelona’s representative in Brazil] called our director general Roberto Moreno with a similar line of conversation.
What’s your opinion of Sandro Rosell?
It has been a while since he visited Brazil. He used to come all the time. He was an important figure in the CBF and Nike. He’s an opportunist.
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