Will this Brazilian ‘number 10’ ascend to greatness, or continue to crumble under the weight of expectation?
Since bursting onto the scene, accompanied by another precocious youngster that goes by the name of Neymar, rumour and transfer controversy have consistently followed this Brazilian playmaker round. Now, with his seemingly imminent departure to a European giant put on hold, we answer the question on a lot of lips: just who is Ganso?
Yes, he was yet another Brazilian tipped to be a world star. Yes, he wore the infamous number 10 shirt of Santos (and on occasion, Brazil). And yes, the name he is now commonly known by has no relevance to his actual real name. Meet Paulo Henrique Chagas de Lima, sorry the Goose, or Ganso to me and you.
Paulo, sorry Ganso, was born in Ananindeua, Pará on the 12th October 1989. He was spotted by former Brazilian international Giovanni as youngster, playing futsal as most Brazilian children do, honing their skills in an attempt to replicate their idols and hopefully make the big time. He joined Tuna Luso, then Paysandu by the age of 15. Not long after his talent began to show he was snapped up by Santos’ youth setup, again on the recommendation of Giovanni, in 2005.
By 2007 he had played in Brazil’s under-20 national tournament, where his abilities had started to be noticed by a wider audience as youth team experts from around the globe started to take note. The Santos youth team gave a poor showing, losing at the quarter-final stages, however Ganso did more than enough to enhance his reputation and in 2008 he was promoted to the senior squad, armed with a 5-year contract. He made his senior league debut in February that year but only managed 7 games, as he had trouble adapting to the more defensively-minded, burly hustle and bustle of the senior game.
It took a new manager at Santos, Dorival Junior, who brought with him a change of playing philosophy, for Ganso to be given another opportunity. This time he didn’t let it slip, making himself indispensible to the club’s style of play in an exciting new attacking 4-3-3 line-up, which saw him team-up with fellow youth phenomenon Neymar, in the process earning the famous number 10 shirt. Of course, at Santos the number 10 shirt holds even more significance, being made famous by their most favourite of son’s, Pele.
2010 saw Ganso win his first senior silverware, starring alongside Neymar as Santos swept all aside, winning the São Paulo State Championship and Brazilian Cup double.
Santos fever gripped Brazil once more as the pair conjured flashbacks to 2002, and their previous successful midfielder/forward duo who had rose through their youth ranks; Diego and Robinho. The momentum gathered as shouts were heard to even involve the pair in the coming 2010 World Cup squad. Ganso made the backup squad, but eventually Dunga left him at home as Brazil endured a lacklustre performance throughout the tournament.
As with his former club, a change of manager at national level saw Ganso immediately called up to represent la selecao, placing the revered number 10 jersey on his back. Just like at his club, the fit seemed perfect as he starred on his international debut – a friendly versus the USA – in a performance so fine that many instantly considering him an automatic first choice. However, with everything coming together for Ganso, disaster struck as he suffered a serious knee injury which kept him sidelined for 6 months; and the Goose arguably hasn’t been the same since.
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After just making the cut to be included in Brazil’s 2011 Copa America squad, question marks persisted over his rushed return to fitness and he failed to make the step-up in what was his first senior international tournament. Injuries worries persisted and despite helping Santos win the Copa Libertadores in 2011, Ganso was no longer seen as essential to the side. Rumours then circulated that he was no longer happy due to the club failing to offer him the same type of lucrative contract they offered Neymar – and the damage was done.
The contract disagreement led to the player and Santos parting ways in controversial circumstances last September. A situation not helped by the complicated rights ‘owned’ by the player’s ‘agent company’ DIS Group. His eventual decision to join Sao Paulo left a bitter taste with the fans of Santos, who nicknamed him ‘Mercenario’, who erased his picture from the club’s training ground wall.
In happier times at Santos , Ganso played the classic number 10 role to perfection. Staying mostly central, the midfielder directed the attacking play with his quick-thinking – so much so that it led to a nickname of ‘the chess player’. Tall (standing at 1.84m/over 6ft) and elegant, he is strong in possession, very gifted technically and has sublime vision – key attributes for any fantasista. The latter two attributes often combine to supply a killer pass to team-mates – with Neymar, a particular benefactor.
Indeed it was his former club colleague who labelled him the “left-footed Zidane”. A fine comparison, as his repertoire of tricks also included the ‘roulette’ spin – something that the great Frenchman perfected in busy midfield areas, to create space for himself and leave markers trailing.
European club giants have been monitoring the player closely since he broke through the Santos ranks, particularly AC Milan who have been heavily linked on several occasions (the club were said to have all but submitted an offer for Ganso, prior to his ill-fated Copa America appearance in 2011), but with his recent decision to remain in Brazil, albeit with a new club (and new shirt number: 8), the pressure is still on for the latest in a long line of Brazilian fantasista starlets to recapture that early promise.