Santos take to the field on Sunday evening, hoping to emulate the achievements of the fantastic Santos team of the 1960’s. 39 years ago, Santos beat Benfica in the World Club Cup final with a certain Pelé in their ranks (it’s called the Club World Cup since the competition is no longer restricted to South American and European teams). They beat AC Milan in the same competition a year later (1963) to mark themselves as one of the great club sides in Brazilian history – they also won the Copa Libertadores in 1962 and 1963 as well as a bunch of domestic trophies.
The comparisons with Pelé are frequent at Santos. Every time a new prodigy comes along, he is compared to the great man (Robinho is one recently example). Grossly unfair to any youngster of course. Unsurprisingly, Neymar is the man currently being compared. Would beating Barcelona and winning the World Club Cup propel him into the same category? No, but win this title and Neymar would be Santos’ second biggest legend of all time at just 19 years of age.
No doubt about it, beating Barcelona is going to be an absolutely mammoth task. Barcelona can afford to pay an entire squad of superstars. Santos have one on the payroll: Neymar. But at only 19 years of age, he really is the man for the moment as he showed against Kashiwa in the semi final with a beautiful goal, worked out of nothing. But although he is their star man, Santos’ hopes of winning the game might lie elsewhere: Ganso.
Barcelona are going to dominate possession, that is for sure. They always dominate possession. But add in Santos’ defensive frailty and Muricy’s defensive nature and you can expect a white coloured bus (or plane) to be parked in Barcelona’s path. Santos’ defenders are not good players and when Santos go forward, they leave all kinds of space at the back, even when they play with two defensive midfielders. They did so against Kashiwa and look at all the chances they gifted their Japanese opponents. Anything like that and they will lose against Barcelona.
Santos won’t go on the attack like they did against Kashiwa Reysol. As Santos blogger Gordon points out, the key to Santos’ hopes will lie in linking their defence with attack quickly. And the man to do this is Ganso. He certainly can pick a pass and has all of the talent in his locker. There are big question marks about his fitness and form and a big match here is so important for the player and his career. Can he stamp his authority on the game on the biggest stage is the question on everybody’s lips. In fact, I’m not sure it is on everybody’s lips but it should be.
In July last year, I went down to Santos to see him and Neymar live in action. At the time, many people (including Santos fans) were saying that Ganso was the better player, the most important to Santos. For example, Ganso was immense in the final of the 2010 Campeonato Paulista. Dorival Junior went to substitute (if I remember right Santos were winning but down to 9 men) him and the players was having none of it. He refused to go off, and utterly dominated the game even though he was physically shattered.
Times have changed though and since then, the fortures of Santos’ two young stars could not be more contrasting. Neymar has gone on to become a global icon, he has negotiated (twice) new multi-million pound contracts with Santos, scored goals galore, become a key player in the seleção. Ganso on the other hand, has suffered from a number of injuries, poor form and has still not negotiated a new contract with Santos. The interest from Europe’s big clubs seems to have vanished. He had a very disappointing Copa America after that and most recently limped out of Brazil’s friendly with Ghana in London earlier this year.
Ganso is class but its time for him to deliver on the big stage. Its time for him to deliver against top quality opposition. He failed in the Copa America, when his fitness was questionable. Against Barcelona it will be even more difficult. But, if he is to live up to his huge potential, now is surely the time for him to show the world what he can do. Neymar is Santos’ star but without Ganso’s help tomorrow, its unlikely to shine bright.
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