Rarely is an individual player the privileged subject of a one-line, Jonathan Wilson paragraph. There are few football writers in the English language as widely syndicated in separate chunks of the globe, or as envied by bibliophobic peers in their hundreds, as Wilson, author of Inverting the Pyramid. His pen is renowned for drawing tactical systems, or at least for committing these traces in history to crisp prose on the page. The privileged individual is Ganso, 21 years of age and - at over six feet tall - a potentially powerful (remember a skinny [Cristiano] Ronaldo?) advanced playmaker. The article in mention was a report on the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final: Ganso and Pele's club, Santos, winning (2-0 on aggregate) for the first time since 1963. There to see this, an 'emotional' Pele was looking down not only at a new chapter of history, but also at the promise shown by striker Neymar. His match winning performance is the latest trailer for yet another national abreaction on the grandest stage: of the prodigy in movie gold, ready to lift the World Cup.
The video is now a year out of date (...more have been added since); it is a sloppily assembled best-of package from the 09/10 season, in other words before Ganso earned his first cap for Brazil and fulfilled a best-supporting-actor role in the South American Champions League final. Zonal Marking describes Ganso's performance as at once intelligent and mobile:
impressive, escaping the attention of Peñarol’s midfield duo by coming deep and turning, then running at the ball with speed, also encouraging Elano forward to the right – his comparative width forced Aguiar and Freitas to adjust their positions and move towards their left.
The title of the video clip, "The New Zidane" - watch it for yourself, and I shall edit out all superlatives - is ludicrous; certainly it is unsurprising given its bogus youtube gift wrap. Then again, Zizou never scored more than ten goals in any league campaign. For an advanced playmaker (or a #10 regista: if pointless, at least a welcome break from the "false nine" trope which has dominated recent tactical discourse), Ganso's young CV - 26 goals in 110 professional games (0.24) - matters before and after the seduction of the scout. It is an especially impressive beginning if one considers the recent increase in the number of highly capped South American defenders choosing to return home, with plenty of seasons still left in the tank, to where they began their careers. This may have as much to do with the decline of Serie A as with the persisting and understandable fear of, or resentment towards, the Premiership imbued in these players. And now they go back to a Latin culture which remains gilded with an eccentricity and liberty (translated, tactically, in Italian: libero / sweeper / free role in defence) incongruous with the current footballscape of Central and Western Europe. Furthermore, it's a Latin culture that pays more nowadays. Dario Rodriguez, the Uruguayan international for instance, faced Ganso in last month's final.
Common sense, or a Wiki-moment's fact-checking, would vindicate any assertion that goalscoring midfielders are essential to successful teams. I have no doubt that although Harry Redknapp recently dismissed Chelsea's £23 million bid for Luka Modric as derisory (Redknapp rightly pointed out that footballers going for similar amounts of money - presumably he means the mediocre England Under 21 player, Jordan Henderson - "aren't fit to lace Luka's boots"), clubs interested in Modric are bound to use the ball-carrier's woeful goalscoring record as a self-deprecating bargaining chip. Abysmally, the Croat netted only three times last season, squandering chances throughout Tottenham's defence of 4th place. These will not be heard described as guilt-edged chances, since it is inconceivable for Modric to attract bad press, what with him being such a gifted little player. (Of course he's a fine technician and most people reading this would agree that his passing vision is as far-reaching as his coveted ability. But this wet, gifted little player sycophancy somewhat undermines St Boot-It-Long George's accusation that melodramatic foreigners who require protection are ruining our football "culture".) Any other player on a six-year contract angry at his chairman, delusional enough to describe Chelsea FC - historically and aesthetically an insignficant club, captained by Jihad-celebrating, disabled-parking-space thief, extramarital shark, brave John Terry, a fanbase famous for its anti-semitic core, a club only recently successful because of its There Will Be Blood, Cold War loser of a hero - as somewhere that every footballer "dreams of playing", would be ridiculed by at least one thinking person in the media.
After the last twelve months, in which the Premiership's newest Big Four have gambled with incomparable success on Javier Hernandez, Fernando Torres, Edin Dzeko and Marouakh Chamakh, it makes indefatigable sense to draw attention away from Neymar to his teammate, Ganso. Chelsea and Manchester United's midfields are both in need of a glamorous reboot. Manchester City, despite signing David Silva, were accused at times last season of lacking subtlety in a midfield thoroughly augmented by ivory, and by concrete in reserve: Yaya Toure, Nigel De Jong, Gareth Barry, James Milner, Patrick Vieira and so on. Meanwhile Sandro, Tom Huddlestone and Rafael Van der Vaart each offer surprise and artistry in abundance, so Luka Modric's absence would do little to impoverish the aesthetic expected at White Hart Lane. Cesc Fabregas, of course, could go. If he is not replaced, then Jonathan Wilson or another member of the press might well inquire into the potential cultural ramifications. Would the Spaniard's, and possibly the Croat's, departure signal a victory for clout in the Premier League, leaving the likes of Raul Moreiles, Park Ji-Sung and Samir Nasri - let's lump and gulp them down as gifted little players - in a strange and permanent frost? Dominic Fitfield made a similar point this weekend in the Guardian (a newspaper borrowing throughout this News of the World debacle, Harry Redknapp's post-match interview soundbite on loop: I know what the people want... If it wasn't for me... Look at what a job I've done...). Regrettably Fitfield is, as I had been during the last World Cup, much too generous to Joe Cole, the Liverpool substitute whose largely uneventful career is slowly eating itself.
The things a small, 'family' club can do for lucky men...
The things a small, 'family' club can do for lucky men...
The banality of the transfer window and an even broader, matchday boringness are why English football would be privileged by the import of a talent such as Ganso, on whom it is worth keeping an eye and pinning a hope.