Neymar may have been the young Santos star grabbing all the headlines as the Peixe ambled through to the Copa Libertadores quarter-finals and won their third consecutive Paulista state championship title, but it is the return to form of Ganso that will have equally pleased the fans.
Ganso played a key role as Muricy Ramalho engineered Santos to their third Libertadores title in 2011, the combination of the young playmaker and virtuoso striker Neymar often proved deadly. The pair came through the youth ranks together and seem to have an almost telepathic understanding when they are both on song. However, it was not just in assisting the club’s star striker that Ganso shone. His goal was the decisive factor as Santos progressed past Club America in the last 16 stage last year. It gave the Peixe a vital away goal which they then defended with their life when they hosted the Mexican club in the second leg.
His success was duly noted by Brazil coach Mano Menezes and he placed Ganso with the immense responsibility of operating as Brazil’s number 10 in the Copa America. Given the hyperbole surrounding the playmaker, his performances throughout the tournament came as a huge disappointment as Brazil suffered an early exit at the quarter-final stage. It seemed he could not replicate his link-up with his Santos team-mate at the international level.
From that point, a steep decline in form ensued for the demure youngster. He struggled for consistency as various knocks and yet more international call-ups continued to interrupt his Brasileiro campaign. With qualification for the next edition of the Libertadores secured as reigning champions, the Peixe had little motivation to perform at their best in the league.
Whilst on international duty for Brazil in September last year, the Santos player suffered a thigh injury would keep him out until the start of the new year. With his below-par performances for club and country fresh in the memory, many began to question whether Ganso had the mettle to perform at the highest level. However, his performances in recent weeks have put to rest any doubts on the youngster’s future in the game.
Santos went into the first leg of the Paulista final against Serie B side Guarani knowing that they were just two games away from lifting their third consecutive Paulistao, a feat not achieved by any club since the days of Pele. The game did not start as expected. Guarani went about the first half with great organisation and discipline, and Santos were finding it hard to break down their resistance. Ganso was the man who changed the game when he provided a wonderfully measured finish from the top of the box just before half time.
He then played a pivotal part in the second goal as he broke beyond Guarani’s defensive line with intricate control as he received Elano’s pass. He committed the keeper, poking the ball away and Neymar was on hand to slot the ball into the vacant net. It was a game-changing performance and Ganso had unlocked the defence and set his team well on their way to a 3-0 victory.
Yet nowhere has his imperious been witnessed as devastatingly as it was in the second leg of the Copa Libertadores quarter-final against Bolivar. Having lost the first match 2-1 at altitude in La Paz, the Alvinegro put in a domineering performance to win 8-0 at the Vila Belmiro. Ganso was indomitable as he dictated the game in his typical languid, flowing style. His inexhaustible array of passing capitalised on a shambolic defensive display from the visitors and he also contributed two goals. A magnificent improvised backheel provided the first and his second came courtesy of a superbly executed free kick.
Ganso has benefitted from being able to operate as playmaker-in-chief for Santos, with Elano dropping deeper as part of a midfield three, typically alongside Arouca and Henrique. This has allowed him more freedom in the final third as his defensive duties have been reduced. He now has the liberty to roam between the lines in and pick apart the opposition with the odd well-weight through-ball or sweeping pinpoint pass to switch the play.
It comes as a far cry from his post-Copa America performances and he is now showing why he has been linked to a host of Europe’s best clubs.
There could not have been a better time for the 22-year-old to have rediscovered his best form. Having helped secure Santos’ third Paulistao in a row – matching a feat that no other club has since Pele guided the club to a trio of title between 1967 and 1969 – they now face one of South America’s most consistent club’s in the Libertadores quarter-finals in Velez Sarsfield.
Retaining South America’s premier club competition’s crown is not unrealistic either with Ganso is now showing why he has been linked to a host of Europe’s best clubs. If he can carry his best form into the Olympics this summer then he can push himself to the forefront of the elite team’s transfer targets. He has failed to rule out a move during the summer transfer window and should he make the switch before the 2014 World Cup, there will no doubt there he will be heavy competition for his signature.