Football Features

How Santos could have lined up if they hadn’t sold their best players

By Squawka News

Published: 16:30, 4 February 2022 | Updated: 13:10, 7 February 2022

From having Pele in his pomp to nurturing Neymar, Santos have been responsible for bringing through a number of exceptional talents in footballing history, but what would a complete line-up consisting only of their best and brightest alumni look like?

The crop of modern-era starlets haven’t exactly become club stalwarts like Mr Pele, who made in excess of 600 appearances for Santos before moving to the New York Cosmos in 1975.

Santos, who are currently managed by ex-forward Cuca, won the Campeonato Paulista in 2016 but are yet to taste success since, recently losing the 2020 Copa Libertadores final 1-0 to Palmeiras. With their prized assets continually being plundered by Europe’s elite clubs, sustaining any success will become more and more difficult.

We’ve taken a look at how Peixe might look if they could instantly recall every active one-time Santista.

GK: Rafael Cabral

  • Age: 31
  • Current club: Cruzeiro
  • Games played for Santos: 189

Rafael joined the Santos academy when he was 13 and after seven years of development, he signed a permanent contract in 2010. He spent three years at the club and won five trophies before signing for Napoli in 2013.

The Brazilian, who has made three appearances for the national team, is currently playing his football in the Brazil with Cruzeiro after joining from Reading in 2022.

RB: Danilo

  • Age: 30
  • Current club: Juventus
  • Games played for Santos: 78

Danilo started at America-MG before moving to Santos in 2010. He only played one season with the side before a string of mouth-watering full-back performances, that saw him score ten goals, caught the eye of Portuguese giants Porto.

He moved to the Dragoes in 2012 and spent three successful years there, scoring 12 goals and grabbing 15 assists in 136 games. In the summer of 2015, he earned a huge move to Real Madrid but has since relocated to Man City and again to Juventus. Danilo lifted the Serie A title with the Old Lady in 2019/20 and has proven important across the backline for them.

CB: Gustavo Henrique

  • Age: 27
  • Current club: Flamengo
  • Games played for Santos: 216

A product of the Santos youth academy, Gustavo Henrique has shown considerable promise during his career so far despite suffering from two serious knee injuries during his early years.

Henrique, who has been capped twice by Brazil’s Under-23 team, helped his side claim the Campeonato Paulista title in both 2015 and 2016 and was rewarded with a place in the competition’s Team of the Year for his performances. He finally left for Flamengo, and would go on to win the Repoca Sudamericana.

CB: Marcelo

  • Age: 34
  • Current club: Bordeaux
  • Games played for Santos: 65

Marcelo hailed from the Santos academy in 2007 and after two productive seasons at the Vila Belmiro, including winning a Campeonato Paulista, the defender relocated to Europe and joined Polish outfit Wisla Krakow 11 years ago.

From the hustle-and-bustle of the Ekstraklasa, the Brazilian has since made his way across the continent, pitching up at PSV Eindhoven, Hannover 96 and Besiktas, before finally settling at Lyon, where he captained his side to a Champions League semi-final appearance, knocking out the likes of Juventus and Manchester City along the way. He’s now plying his trade at Bordeaux.

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LB: Alex Sandro

  • Age: 31
  • Current club: Juventus
  • Games played for Santos: 53

An accomplished attacking full-back, Alex Sandro spent a season on loan at Santos from Deportivo Maldonado after moving from Atletico Paranaense.

He played 53 times during his only season at the club and was then signed by Porto in 2011. After impressing for the Portuguese giants over four seasons (and winning two league titles) he signed for Juventus in 2015 and has since established himself as one of world football’s best left-backs.

CM: Thiago Maia

  • Age: 24
  • Current club: Flamengo
  • Games played for Santos: 122

Maia became the latest homegrown starlet prised away from Santos by a wealthy European club after Lille secured his signature in 2017. He initially made his debut for Santos at the age of 17 and quickly became an ever-present in the club’s midfield.

Alongside Renato Augusto, Thiago Maia was key to Brazil’s midfield as they won Olympic gold in Rio, defeating Germany in the final on penalties. In the 2018/19 season, the midfield enforcer helped Lille climb to second in the Ligue 1 table, but he has since returned with Flamengo.

CM: Diego

  • Age: 36
  • Current club: Flamengo
  • Games played for Santos: 127

Another Santos youth academy graduate, Diego signed for the club in 1996 and progressed into the first team in 2002.

After two years playing in the side’s first team, he moved to Porto before signing for Werder Bremen after just two years. The Brazilian was outstanding for the German club and scored 24 goals in 87 games, earning him a big move to Juventus in 2009.

The attacking playmaker fell out with then-Juve boss Ciro Ferrara and he left the Old Lady after just one season (against fans’ wishes), signing for Wolfsburg in 2010. He spent four seasons at the club but didn’t win any silverware, something he corrected during a loan spell at Atletico Madrid in 2011 where he helped Atleti win the Europa League.

His impressive loan spell saw him move to the Vicente Calderon on a permanent basis. During the 2013/14 season, he was part of the side that won the La Liga title and finished runners-up in the Champions League. He was playing for Fenerbahce in the Turkish top flight before returning to Brazil with Flamengo on a free transfer in 2016 where he has since helped the club to Campeonato Carioca, Serie A, Copa Libertadores and Recopa Sudamericana titles.

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RW: Felipe Anderson

  • Age: 28
  • Current club: Lazio
  • Games played for Santos: 106

Anderson’s rapid progression to Santos’ first team came rather fortuitously – for the winger that is – because an injury crisis to the Santastico, but once he demonstrated his technical verve and skill on the pitch, he remained a regular in the starting XI.

The twinkle-toed Brazilian helped the club to a famous Copa Libertadores win in 2011, and in 2013 Lazio made a move for his services. In the Italian capital, Anderson continued to wow supporters with his mesmeric performances, lighting up the Stadio Olimpico, which prompted rumours of a big-money move to one of Europe’s elite clubs.

But in the summer of 2018, it was West Ham who got their hands on the 2016 Olympic Gold Medal winner, signing Anderson for a club-record fee. However, after a positive start, things quietened down for the Brazilian and he is now back at Lazio.

CAM: Neymar

  • Age: 29
  • Current club: Paris Saint-Germain
  • Games played for Santos: 225

Santos’ golden boy. Neymar spent ten years at the club after signing for the youth academy in 2003. Blessed with scintillating dribbling skills and remarkable flair, the Brazilian scored 136 goals in 223 games before earning himself a huge move to Barcelona in 2013.

After winning six trophies with Santos he continued to pick up titles in Spain, forming a devastating part of the Catalan side’s deadly M.S.N. strikeforce, playing alongside Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi.

Neymar clinched a plethora of titles at the Camp Nou, including the coveted Champions League trophy, but his time in Catalonia lasted just four years after PSG made him the world’s most expensive player ever when they brought him to Paris for £198m in 2017.

Neymar’s sole remit has been to help the Parisians lift their first-ever Champions League title and although that has eluded him so far, the Brazilian will be hoping 2021/22 is his season after narrowly missing out two years ago.

LW: Rodrygo Goes

  • Age: 21
  • Current club: Real Madrid
  • Games played for Santos: 45

The current poster boy of Santos’ esteemed academy, Rodrygo Goes is the latest prodigiously gifted starlet to emerge from the club’s healthy production line, though such has been his meteoric rise to prominence that Real Madrid have wasted little time in securing his signature.

Scared they would lose out to eternal rivals Barcelona for Santos’ next world-class winger a la Neymar Los Blancos couriered circa £40m to Brazil for the teenager’s services. He has already shown plenty of promise in the famous white shirt, scoring a perfect hat-trick against Galatasaray in the Champions League and netting seven goals in 26 appearances across all competitions during his debut season.

An honourable mention must go to another forward here, Bruno Henrique, one of several Santos alumni who helped Flamengo win the 2019 Copa Libertadores. Bruno Henrique even won the tournament’s Best Player award while doing so, ahead of the next guy in our line-up…

ST: Gabriel Barbosa

  • Age: 25
  • Current club: Flamengo
  • Games played for Santos: 157

Flamengo wins the Brasileiro Championship

“I was truly enchanted by the fans,” said Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa after making his Serie A debut with Inter in 2016. “He has been humiliated physically, morally and psychologically,” said his agent less than a year later.

Gabriel played 112 minutes in nine league appearances in the period separating those two statements. To this day, he has only one league goal in European football. Frank de Boer, although possibly embittered by his sacking as Inter coach just 85 days after they hired him, blamed his attitude.

So why is he in this line-up? Well, because he’s box office. Flamengo, whom he joined on loan earlier that year, were losing the 2019 Copa Libertadores final to River Plate 1-0 as the 88th minute ticked out. Then Gabigol scored twice in minutes 89 and 90+2, did the Messi celebration, got sent off and Flamengo became South American champions for the first time in nearly four decades. He ended the Copa Libertadores campaign as top scorer (9 goals), mirroring the achievement in the 2019 Brazilian Serie A campaign (25 goals). Flamengo won that competition, too, and paid Inter €20m to sign their leading goalscorer permanently.

These days Gabriel can be found (metaphorically) polishing his ‘South American Footballer of the Year’ award, determined by Uruguay’s El Pais.