”That kid is a complete goose!”
Famous words uttered by a Santos employee on seeing the slender, gangly teenager take to the field to play for the Brazilian side on his debut. Calling someone a goose in Brazil, it is just a slang term in the country for someone who is very poor at a specific task (in this case football), but it was a word which had to be eaten 90 minutes later. Ganso scored soon after kick-off and a strong performance for the top flight club of Brazil was etched in the memory of all in attendance that day as the 15-year-old carved out his name as one for the future. It is fair to say that the man on the Santos bench rivals Alan Hansen’s effort for worst prediction ever when claiming ‘’You don’t win anything with kids!’’ And it’s true to say Ganso has gone on to prove both wrong as his career soars from height to dizzying height.
Born into a tough, destitute Brazilian neighbourhood in 1989, Ganso shaped his personality into a determined and diligent child and coupled with tremendous raw ability, his rise to the top of the footballing ladder would be inevitable. Ganso joined his local club, Tuan Luso as a seven-year-old boy back in 1996. Tuna Luso, a modest club wallowing in the lower leagues of Brazilian football, always knew their star youngster was destined for bigger and better things as eventually, he would be snapped up by another club. At only 15 years of age, he joined local rivals Paysandu but little did they know, Ganso’s stay there would be short lived. Just months after leaving Tuna Luso, he was snapped up by top flight side, Santos, shortly before his 16th birthday in October of that year. Former Brazil international and Barcelona midfielder Giovanni, who has strong ties with the Copa Libertadores champions, scouted the teenager and Ganso would ply his trade with the Brasileirao team from then on.
Despite his tender years, he was thrown into the first team set-up in 2005 and this was where his nickname emerged. A sceptical employee of the Brazilian club cynically remarked about him with the ‘goose’ insult but a star was born that day. This time though unlike past false dawns in Brazilian football, it was real, deserved and merited hype.
His few flaws were harnessed and eradicated as he developed at the famed South American club who have had the delight of Pele in the past and the wonderful Neymar now. However injuries crept into his game and in 2007, he suffered a major setback in his career. The affliction sidelined him for six months of that year but he was able to make his highly-anticipated return in the prestigious Under-20 Campeonato Paulista competition. Although missing a large chunk of his team’s run to the final, Ganso was able to start in the finale of the tournament as he helped his side claim the trophy, putting a difficult year behind himself.
Next year in 2008 at the age of 18, he was given the squad number of 10 for Santos as his burgeoning career continued to go from strength to strength. However he could not prevent his side exiting the Copa Sao Paulo at the quarter-final stage as more and more of Brazil learned about this new whizz-kid and how to nullify his influence in games. However, it is said that you learn more from your losses than your victories and Ganso realised how he needed to adapt his game and how to always gain an edge on his opponent, which is now paying dividends to this day.
The next year signalled his recognition right across the huge country as the 200 million strong population ascertained of Ganso’s ability. Having received a call-up to the Under-20 national team squad in 2009, he was added to their roster for the upcoming U-20 World Cup. He started and starred in every game en route to Brazil getting to the final but he could not stop Ghana from eventually winning the competition, with the Africans edging the contest on penalties in the end.
In May 2010, just ahead of the FIFA World Cup set to take place in Africa, Ganso helped Santos capture the Campeonato Paulista, Sao Paulo’s premier league. Having scored 11 goals in 19 league appearances, he proved his eye for goal as well as being able to orchestrate them. His performances along the way to their victory earned him masses of support throughout Brazil and many of them voiced their opinion that the youngster should be included in Dunga’s World Cup squad. Unfortunately, he was not on the plane to South Africa as Ganso was only named as one of the seven back-up players for Dunga’s squad.
That disappointment galvanised the youngster as he eventually earned his first call-up under new coach, Mano Menezes. The team took on the USA in a friendly in August 2010 and Ganso featured heavily in the win, playing a pivotal role in Pato’s goal, who made it 2-0. However in the very same month, he suffered a gut-wrenching cruciate ligament injury to his favoured left leg which ruled him out for seven months. As he was sidelined for a large part of the season, he was only just able to make it back in time for Santos’ quest to reclaim the Copa Libertadores, the South America version of the Champions League which had eluded the Brazilian club since Pele led them to continental victory in 1963.
A tentative 0-0 draw with Uruguayan club Penarol in the first-leg meant Santos had to take the tie by the scruff of the neck in the return leg at home as they won 2-1. Neymar’s opening goal grabbed everyone’s attention as the bright player of the game but it was the precise, measured, defence-splitting passes of Ganso which laid the foundations for a domineering display by the three-time winners. His intelligent use of the ball, deciding when to play it short and tire out the opposition or play it long and take several defenders out of the game, portrayed a man with years of experience and training behind him but this was simply natural to Ganso. His miserly retention of the ball drew comparisons with Xavi but it was his constant probing of the Penarol defence, putting them on the back foot, which made him look more like a younger version of Zinedine Zidane or Juan Roman Riquelme.
His brilliant form in the final of this tournament, in spite of his long injury lay-off, earned Ganso a berth in Mano Menezes’ Brazil squad for the Copa America and he was given the legendary number 10, previously donned by icons of the game such as Pele, Ronaldinho and Kaka. However, despite his strong performances, underlining his position as one of world football’s greatest young players, Brazil crashed out of the tournament at the quarter-final stage in a penalty shoot-out to Paraguay. Having assisted goals to Jadson and Fred in group games, Ganso at least made some meaningful contribution to the lacklustre Samba side as Neymar’s ordinary performances ensured he bore the brunt of the Brazilian media’s criticism for their shock eliminat
Now he has played for the greatest national team of all-time. He has led his club side to continental glory. The midfield maestro has conquered South America as Europe’s elite clubs look on with desire at the 21-year-old genius. The sky is the limit for this immensely mature and superbly gifted footballer as Santos coach Muricy Ramalho counts down the days before his ‘complete goose’ leaves the nest for bigger and better things, be it in Madrid, Milan or even Manchester!