Neymar began playing football at an early age and he was soon spotted by Santos FC who offered him a contract in 2003, where he was inducted into their youth academy, which has, in the past, produced Brazilian internationals like Coutinho, Clodoaldo, Diego, Elano and Alex. He also joined the likes of Pepe, Pelé and Robinho in starting out his career at the club, nicknamed Peixe. While in the youth academy, Neymar met Paulo Henrique Ganso, becoming good friends in the process. Aged 14, Neymar travelled to Spain for try outs with the Real Madrid youth team, at the time when Real had stars like Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham, Roberto Carlos and Robinho. He did not stay in Madrid, however, as his father decided at the time that he preferred the young prodigy to keep growing up while playing at Santos.
2009: Debut season
Neymar made his professional debut on 7 March 2009, despite being only 17 years old; he was brought on for the last thirty minutes, in a 2–1 win against Oeste. The following week he scored his first goal for Santos against Mogi Mirim. One month later, on 11 April, Neymar scored the decisive goal in a 2–1 win against Palmeiras in the 2009 Campeonato Paulista semi-final first leg. In the final, however, Santos suffered a 4–2 aggregate defeat to Corinthians. In his first season, Neymar racked up 14 goals in 48 games.
2010: Campeonato Paulista success
"The 18-year-old is a magnificent prospect. He is sleek and skilful, able to beat the defender on either side, capable of combining well, and full of tricks he can put to productive use in and around the penalty area."
Neymar continued his ascendancy in 2010, and, on 15 April 2010, he scored five goals for Santos in an 8–1 rout of Guarani in the qualifying stages of the Brazilian Cup. Following the 2010 Campeonato Paulista in which Neymar scored 14 goals in 19 games, the club were crowned champions after a 5–5 aggregate win over Santo André in the finals. Neymar was subsequently given the award for the best player in the competition. Neymar's performances for Santos have drawn comparisons to other Brazilians, including Robinho and Brazilian legend Pelé.[