On Wednesday, less than half a week after Santos medical staff proclaimed Paulo Henrique Ganso to be closing in on full fitness, the elegant midfielder hobbled off the Vila Belmiro pitch to a racket of heckling and chorus of boos.
Ganso, who was making his way back from a third knee operation in less than three years, had earlier in the match suffered a thigh tear in his famous left leg but had refused to come off until the final whistle. He was so desperate for football after playing just 29 games the last three seasons combined that he might well have jeopardised what chance he had of putting together an effective final half of the Brasileiro campaign.
Talk about being hit when you’re down. Ganso, it’s worth remembering, is just 22-years-old, and he may have already played his final match for Santos.
Rewind two years. It was in August 2010 that Ganso was first named to the senior Brazil squad for a friendly against the United States. He had been experiencing knee problems for several months before that match, and by the time the first ball was kicked that night at Giants Stadium he knew he’d be going under the knife later that month.
Not that you’d have known it by his performance. Like a maestro with a baton he conducted every crescendo of Brazil’s attack, and after the 2-0 win he was rightfully hailed as the up-and-coming artist in Brazilian football. A few months later he’d be handed the label “left-footed Zidane,” but on very few occasions since has he displayed the same magnificence, the same genius.
That troublesome knee has been mostly to blame (a curse to the development of a footballer in his most formative years) and both the player and his club have been understandably irritated with the bad luck—irritation that has lately become a pot of frustration about to boil over.
Ganso, with each successive injury, has been feeling increasingly neglected by the Santos staff. There have been some reports that during his most recent convalescence he was left to a small room with an outdated television—an injured footballer’s version of solitary confinement. He was also annoyed when high-profile teammate Neymar was presented a huge new contract while Santos offered him nothing.
Santos, on the other hand, are exasperated with Ganso’s inability to stay fit. Not only does the playmaker’s absence hurt them on the field and at the gate, but it also minimises a prospective transfer fee that, had things gone differently, would easily have exceeded £30 million.
Now Sao Paulo are actively pursuing the player on the transfer market and, while it was turned down by Santos, presented an opening bid of £8.7 million for his signature.
Santos know they’ll receive nowhere near the £40 million they have written into Ganso’s contract as a buy-out clause, but with both parties eager for a resolution to the situation Sao Paulo are well-positioned acquire the midfielder at a cut-rate price.
The transaction is likely to happen sooner rather than later. Ganso did not train on Friday and will not be involved in Sunday’s match against Sport Recife, having been ruled out indefinitely by Santos. And given that his next match for Peixe—his sixth of the season—would ensure by Brazilian transfer legislation that he remain at the Vila Belmiro for the remainder of the campaign, there’s a good chance he’ll never suit up for Santos again.
For Ganso, a change of scenery will surely be a welcome thing, and no doubt Santos will be happy to rid themselves of the distraction.
That said, it’s a shame that a relationship that began with so much promise has degenerated to a point such as this. Two years is a long time in football, but even the most pessimistic prognosticators could not have predicted the epic fallout between Ganso and Santos.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer