I often tell people some of the most enjoyable football I’ve watched was played in the 2010 Paulista championship. Santos were the entertainers of the tournament—a side populated by exciting, young players where fun came first and winning, which they did, was merely part of the spectacle.
Robinho had just arrived at the club on loan from Manchester City, and even he couldn’t help but be refreshed by the youthful vigour that surged through the team. At 26 he was the elder statesmen, and he played some of the best football I’ve seen from him. I doubt he’s been happier since.
But these next few paragraphs aren’t going to be about Robinho. The true star of the Santos side that won the state championship that May was 20-year-old playmaker Paulo Henrique Ganso. Tall, elegant and assured of his abilities, he was the brains behind the goals that turned a teenage Neymar into the most dangerous forward on the continent. When some highly-respected journalists came up with the Zidane comparison it was hardly the embellishment it would have been had it not been Ganso.
Here was a midfielder whose relationship with the ball had the sort of intimacy other players could only wish for. Here was a natural—the number-10 who would take Brazil to the promised land.
If you’ve followed Ganso’s career the past two years you’re well aware of just how sharply the narrative has turned into something very different. A series of knee and leg injuries have limited the now 22-year-old to just 29 league matches since the 2010 Paulista and a nasty, prolonged fallout with Santos came to its bitter end early this morning when he was transferred to Sao Paulo.
I documented the row between player and club in a previous entry in this space, but with the move completed and a new chapter opened in Ganso’s story I feel obliged to provide an update.
Ganso’s switch from Santos to Sao Paulo was completed just after 1am local time, although the transaction had been in the works for more than a month. The presence of third party DSI (owners of a major supermarket chain and investors in Brazilian footballers) complicated things immensely, but in the end a £7.5 million fee was agreed that transferred 32 per cent of his playing rights to the Tricolor.
Santos, until the very end, conducted themselves with a shocking degree of immaturity. Not only had the club been rumoured to have left Ganso to recover from his most recent injury in a small room with an outdated television—a sort of solitary confinement—but they had the player sign a bizarre document upon his exit that stated he would not criticise the Santos board. If that wasn’t enough, they made him sign it at the Vila Belmiro stadium, where they fully knew there was a good chance he would be accosted by angry supporters.
Ganso’s comments after the deal was completed oozed relief.
“At one point during the negotiation I was worried—it was so tiring,” he said. “I can say I am very happy to join Sao Paulo..Sao Paulo was the most concerned with my well-being…I am very happy; this is a great joy.”
A thigh injury suffered late last month will keep Ganso out of the Sao Paulo line-up until November, and even then there is no guarantee he will ever scale the heights he reached in 2010. But you get the feeling the move will at least provide a placebo effect—so motivated will the player be to stay fit, play regularly and re-establish himself as the top playmaker in the country.
Hopefully, after two forgettable years, Ganso can finally revisit the form and fun he enjoyed en route to that first Paulista title. Hopefully the ending to this story will be better than it looked over the past month, somewhere far off in the future. As Globo Esporte described the saga on Friday, it has been “a novel with twists, romances, breakups, fights and a happy ending for Sao Paulo and Ganso.”
Follow Jerrad Peters on Twitter @peterssoccer