With the European season over, and in the midst of Euro 2012 warm-up matches, the Brazil under-23 side were preparing for London 2012. An exhilirating exhibition of touch, speed and technique had seen off Denmark 3-1 in Hamburg, as the joint-favourites (along with Spain) for Olympic gold justified that tag. From there, preparations took them to America, and a friendly with Mexico. After the win over the Danes, the Selecao were heavy favourites against their Concacaf opponents.
With players such as the Santos phenom Neymar, Internacional striker Leandro Damiao, and his uber-talented club-mate, the sparkling playmaker Oscar – who has been linked with a move to Tottenham this summer, although less so since the arrival of Andre Villas-Boas as manager and whose former club Chelsea are now believed to be the forerunners for his signature – the neutrals in the crowd at Texas’ Cowboys Stadium anticipated a moment of magic and finesse from one of the Olympic hopefuls on show.
What they got was exactly that, albeit not from someone wearing the famous yellow shirts of the five-time World Cup winners, but instead a glorious show of individualism from someone in green. Someone who, having burst onto the scene as a player of great promise at Barcelona – having joined the club as an 11-year-old, emerging through the fabled halls of La Masia before scoring a hat-trick on his final appearance for the Blaugrana – has somewhat disappointingly seen his career stall, having previously been heralded as a star of the future, but who has largely been forgotten since Juande Ramos spent an initial £4.7m to take him to the Premier League and Tottenham Hotspur.
When a long crossfield pass found the feet of Giovani Dos Santos in an outside left position some 18 yards from the goalline, the Mexican number 10 faced up the Brazilian right-back Danilo, before working half a yard of space, easing the ball onto his left foot, and sumptuously clipping a left footed chip over goalkeeper Rafael, which dropped just below the crossbar and into the back of the net via the far post. The capacity crowd were incredulous at what they had witnessed. But it was nothing more than a glimmer of the talent that the mercurial Giovani, still only 23, possesses.
Which begs the question, where has it been these past four years and why is it important now? After all, a similar breathtaking scooped finish emerged from his left boot last summer in the Gold Cup final, as Mexico stormed from two goals down to beat the USA 4-2 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena in front of 94,000 spectators.
A more pertinent question would be: What’s changed? And the answer would of course be the situation at Tottenham Hotspur, the departure of Harry Redknapp and the subsequent arrival of the aforementioned Villas-Boas.
Giovani was not a Redknapp signing. He joined Spurs as a part of Juande Ramos rebuilding in the summer of 2008, as the Spaniard, who had twice led Sevilla to Uefa Cup success, looked to make his mark on White Hart Lane. As we all know, eight games and two points into the 2008/09 season and Spurs chairman Daniel Levy handed Ramos his P45, Harry Redknapp appeared, and the 19-year-old Giovani became collateral damage, a part of Ramos legacy.
With Redknapp’s arrival came a switch back to a 4-4-2 formation – The arrival of Rafael van der Vaart would later transition that into a 4-4-1-1 – with two old-fashioned style wingers (Gareth Bale & Aaron Lennon) as reference for Redknapp’s swashbucklling side. Ally that to the Dutchman in the number 10 position and there has never been space for the Mexican at White Hart Lane. In four years, he has made just 18 appearances in the Premier League, 16 as a substitute, making little impression, whilst also disappointing during loan spells at Ipswich Town, Galatasary and, to a lesser extent, Racing Santander, where he was able to show fleeting glimpses of quality, with five goals in 16 matches in a struggling side. Never a part of Redknapp’s plans, and with reservations about both his mentality and his slight build and seeming inability to adapt to the Premier League, the club attempted to sell Giovani during both the last two winter and summer transfer windows but without success.
However, with the arrival of the former Porto and Chelsea head coach, the Mexicans career could be set for something of a renaissance.With Villas-Boas expected to switch Spurs formation to his preferred 4-3-3, he’s likely to look to utilise a wide-forward capable of drifting in-field, in-between-the-lines, with an ability to shoot – amalgorations between wide-forwards & support strikers, witness Hulk at Porto and Daniel Sturridge at Stamford Bridge, both of whom played from nominal starting positions on the right – then Giovani could be set to benefit.
With Gareth Bale having put pen-to-paper on a new four-year contract, his position on the left-wing remains very much his. On the right however, Aaron Lennon’s place may come under threat. Villas-Boas has shown in his managerial roles to date that he prefers his right-sided forward to be ostensibly left-footed, able to cut inside and shoot with either foot or to exchange in interplay with either a centre-forward or advancing midfielders, whilst also being capable of going outside his full-back. A criticism of Lennon has long been that he is somewhat one-dimensional, excellent at hugging the touchline and going past his full-back on the outside, but much less of a threat when shown inside.
The same cannot be said of Giovani, who is something of a David Silva-lite, rather than an out-and-out winger. Typical of La Masia graduates, the Mexican is comfortable in tight situations, backing his touch, ability, technique and acceleration to extricate himself from defenders, be it by finding a pass or by beating a man, before moving into space for a return. Capable of the defence-splitting pass, or advancing on goal himself, Giovani offers nothing if not variety in the final third and has much of the attacking qualities and instincts that Villas-Boas may feel he can work with and improve upon.
Much now will rest on the Mexican’s shoulders if he is to continue his career in north London. The early weeks of pre-season are almost a trial period for him, an opportunity to make an impression on the new coaching staff before he heads off to team up with the Mexican Olympic squad later this month. But if Giovani can finally show his true quality and a consistency that has been unfortunately lacking during his career to date, then the quicksilver Mexican could have a future at White Hart Lane after all.