Om June 22 2011, Santos beat Uruguayan side Peñarol to claim the third Copa Libertadores in the club’s history. An intriguing squad, precocious talent mixed with experienced pros, each of their players would take very different paths. Some to the top of world football, for others it was their final mark in a game which had largely ignored them.
For obvious reasons a certain player would steal the show but there were a whole host around him, some of whom you might not have realised played their part.
This is the story of Santos and the players who gave their fans their most famous day in recent history.
You’ll see what I mean in my introduction through the first player we encounter in the black and white. No player played more times in 2011 than Rafael Cabral , a twenty-one year old goalkeeper enjoying his second season as Santos’s first choice.
Born in Sorocaba, a medium sized city in the state of Sao Paolo, where Santos plied their trade, Rafael was living the dream. In May of 2012 he would receive the first of three caps for Brazil and in 2013 he would be sold to Napoli for €5 million. In Naples he would break into the first team upon the departure of Pepe Reina but would lose his place when the Spaniard moved permanently, this time from Bayern Munich.
And from there he would never play consistent first team football again, four consecutive seasons as a number two, the last of these at Sampdoria, he had the rare distinction of being a keeper whose highlights were before the age of 25. A move to Reading in 2019 has reignited the Brazilian and he has enjoyed two years as the first choice keeper in a side fighting for a place in the Premier League.Embed from Getty Images
Remember Durval? Can’t say I do either, but the central defender can count himself a Brazil international, his one cap coming as a thirty-two year old in 2012. It was a fitting reward for a player who played for twelve seasons in the Brazilian top flight with Atletico Paranaense, Sport Club do Recife and Santos. The Copa Libertadores triumph would mark a high point for the defender who would win State Championships on ten different occasions.
Yep, that Danilo. The right back had transferred from America Mineiro, a team he had helped guide back to the Brazilian Serie A. He would spend two campaigns with Santos before signing with Porto for €13 million. Moves to Real Madrid, Manchester City and Juventus create a sterling resume, even if he hasn’t quite reached the heights he managed in Portugal. With his recent triumph with Juventus he has now won the league title in four different European countries, to add to two Champions Leagues with Madrid and twenty-eight Brazil caps.Embed from Getty Images
Eduardo Luis Abonizio de Souza is commonly knowns as Edu Dracena, by virtue of his first name and where he was born. The small town of Dracena not being known for too many football stars. The centre half had started his career with Guarani, a small club in Sao Paolo state who have previously won the first division of the Brazilian Championship. From there he had spent time on loan with Olympiacos, before being transferred to Cruzeiro in Belo Horizonte as a replacement for the international defender Cris (sold to Lyon).
His time with Cruzeiro was a success, winning the Serie A once and State Championship on three occasions. Another stint in Europe followed, this time in Turkey with Fenerbahce, where he scored against Galatasaray for the 500th goal against their Istanbul rivals. His time in Turkey coincided with two appearances with the national side.
Aged twenty-eight he would return to Brazil with Santos, playing the best football of his career and add Corinthians and Palmeiras to his resume on his departure.
The left-back may not have played much in the league but he did play eleven times in the Copa Libertadores, all whilst as a player on loan from Atletico Paranaense. Despite the loan move, Sandro was owned by Deportivo Maldonado as Atletico had sold the rights to the player to investors. So it was from the Uruguayan club that Porto signed him paying €9.6 million in 2011. Like Danilo it was at Porto that Sandro made his breakthrough, making 137 appeareances across four seasons.
Juventus paid €26 million for his services and the Brazilian now defends on the opposite flank to Danilo ten years after they won the Copa Libertadores as young talents fresh to the world of professional football (Sandro, 20, Danilo, 19). Sandro has played 23 times for Brazil, finding Marcelo difficult to dislodge prior to his retirement in 2018, and more recently falling behind Atletico Madrid’s Renan Lodi.Embed from Getty Images
If you’re a fan of Brazilian football you’ll no doubt have heard of the mohawked right-back who has played more or less his entire career in the Brazilian top-flight. Four seasons with Santos, then three with Gremio, followied by four more with Flamengo he now finds himself in his third season back at Santos.
Alex Ferguson clearly felt Possebon had something to him other than a strange resemblance to the Simpson’s ‘Sideshow Bob’ but it was one few Manchester United fans got the chance to inspect. As a nineteen-year-old he made his Premier League debut as a replacement for Ryan Giggs but would play just twice more in the league and be loaned to Braga for the 2009/2010 season. He failed to break the first team there too and was returned early from his loan before being transferred from United altogether.
Still only 20, Santos clearly thought him worth paying for, having spotted something from his youth career with Internacional and they paid an undisclosed fee.
And in truth at Santos he failed to make the adjustment too, playing 27 times in 2011 before disappearing from football almost altogether. Eight clubs, a handful of games, Possebon was last seen playing for Vietnamese side Ho Chi Minh CityEmbed from Getty Images
By the time Leo played at left-back in the Copa Libertadores final he was winding down on a career that had featured seven caps in the yellow of Brazil and a stint in Europe past the age of 30. Leo had played over two-hundred games for Santos when he moved aged thirty to Benfica, playing in the Portuguese capital for three seasons and reaching the Champions League quarter-finals in 2005/2006. The reason for his departure? A certain David Luiz had replaced him and he returned to Santos well past his thirty-third birthday. Five years with Santos he played fifty games in 2011, becoming thirty-six along the way and retired from professional football with three State Championships, 2 Serie A and one Copa Libertadores trophy. Not bad for a player who didn’t play in the top flight till he was twenty-five.
The defensive midfielder is not one who may be the first you think of when considering Santos’s great players but his contribution to the Copa Libertadores win cannot be underestimated. Fifty-five appearances across the year he did the dirty work that allowed others to take the plaudits. A subsequent career sliding down the Brazilian divisions will do little to take the shine of a Copa Libertadores medal.
Defensive midfielder Marcos Arouca da Silva is one of those players with such obvious talent that we just don’t hear about by virtue of a career spent entirely in his homeland. For Arouca Santos’s triumph was a case of second time lucky, having reached the final with Fluminense. That day it was a case of two teams searching for their first continental triumph one from Ecuador (LDU Quito and one from Brazil. Fluminense could have hardly come closer. 4-2 down after the first leg in Ecuador in the second they tied the aggregate scores by winning 3-1 before undoing their good work by missing three of their four penalties in the shootout.
Arouca had moved from Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paolo at the end of that season before being loaned one season later to Santos. The move became permanent one year later and over five hugely successful seasons he earned four caps for Brazil, three State Championships with the Copa Libertadores to boot. Stints at Palmeiras, where he watched on as they won the Brazilian Serie A, Vitoria and Atletico Mineiro followed but he failed to reach the heights he had seen in his twenties. He now plays for Figueirense in the Brazilian lower leagues.
The Shakhtar midfielder will have become one fans of the Champions League are well accustomed too but he moved to Ukraine just two days after being on the bench for the Copa Libertadores final. During those early years in Eastern Europe, he spent time back in Brazil on loan with Internacional, Palmeiras and Flamengo but has adjusted to Ukrainian football, last year helping steer the Ukrainian champions to the semi-finals of the Europa League. Now aged twenty-nine he is making his strongest case for a call-up to the Brazil national side.Embed from Getty Images
In 2011 Felipe Anderson was just starting to make inroads to the Santos team, playing 29 times in the double winning season. When Elano started to dip in form a vacancy opened up, one which Anderson quickly made his own forming an extremely talented partnership with Neymar and earning a move in June 2013 to Lazio. 7.8 million euros was the fee with the move complicated by the company Doyen Sports having ownership rights in the player.
On the pitch things were simpler with Anderson scoring eleven times in thirty-seven games in his second season. It was enough to earn the first of two caps for Brazil. 177 appearances across five seasons when Pellegrini signed him at West Ham his £36 million price tag was a club record fee, one he looked like repaying in his first few months at the Olympic Stadium.
Pelliegrini’s departure and David Moyes’s disinterest in the player meant the Brazilian struggled for game time, heading to Porto at the start of 2020/2021. For now he is warming the bench for a side that has just reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Between 2004 and 2011 Elano played fifty times for Brazil, scoring nine goals and it was at Santos where he got his first break, playing alongside Robinho and defender Alex in a Santos side packed full of talent. Two Brazilian Serie A titles in his final full season he scored twenty-two times from midfield before Shakhtar made him one of a first of a raft of Brazilian signings (see our Shakhtar article for more detail). During this time he became the first Brazilian playing in Ukraine to be selected for the national team and won the Ukrainian Premier League twice. English fans will remember him predominantly as a City player, a two year stay resulting in eighteen goals across 84 appearances.
Some of these were spectacular, the best of which a sublime free kick shared below.
He would leave Manchester for Istanbul, playing for Galatasaray, before a return to Santos to lift the Copa Libertadores. Aged thirty he had one of his best seasons to date, scoring fifteen times in forty-three matches and making his final appearances for Brazil. Stints at Gremio, Flamengo and even the Indian Super League would follow but it was at Santos, City and Shakhtar where fans will remember him most.
Paolo Henriques Ganso would start on the left wing in the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final and further cement his status as one of Brazil’s hottest prospects, earning eight caps over a two-year period from 2010. He would fall out of favour towards the end of his stay in Santos and join rivals Sao Paolo where he enjoyed four seasons of consistent football without achieving the same amount of silverware as at Santos. His value still high, Sevilla were the team to take the gamble, signing Ganso for €10 million but he would never really hit the same heights, two frustrating seasons leading to a loan move to Ligue 1 with Amiens. Now back in Brazil and aged thirty one, he plays his football for Fluminense where he won the State Championship in 2020.Embed from Getty Images
It’s ridiculous to think when Neymar left Brazil he was only twenty-one years old but had scored 136 times for Santos and had already been already South American Football of the Year (2012). Add a Puskas Award, Olympic Silver Medal and soon to be Confederations Cup and it becomes easy to see why despite having won five league titles, one Champions League and two UEFA team of the year appearances that the Brazilian is deemed to have not lived up to the hype. Aged 29 he needs thirteen goals to tie Pele’s Brazil record (77) but will likely be targeting finally stepping out of the shadow of Kylian Mbappe.
Aged 33, Ze Eduardo has played for 27 different professional sides in Brazil, Italy, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and China. He has been offered a trial at AC Milan and turned it down because to quote:
I have won one Libertadores and two Campeonatos Paulsistas with Santos, I don’t do tests.”Ze Eduardo, quoted in La Republicca, 2012
It’s fair to say Ze Eduardo is quite proud of his two seasons with Santos, and with good reason. Eighteen goals in 2010, he scored eight in 2011 but started the final for Santos. He would leave for Italian Serie A side Genoa and that would be the end of Ze Eduardo as a footballer at the highest level, his list of clubs growing from day to day.
Featured image “Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior | Copa Libertadores de America 2011 | Peñarol – Santos | 110616-6940-jikatu” by jikatu is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0