Tim Vickery Column: Can 2014 finally be Paulo Henrique Ganso's year?

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On a radio show last week I was hit with a surprise question; who did I think would win this year’s Brazilian Championship?

It is, of course, very early for predictions.  The competition is not set to start until the end of April, and at this moment we don’t even know how many teams will be taking part.  The controversy over the Portuguesa relegation rumbles on.

But there was an instant answer that popped into my head.  A big club without the distraction of the Copa Libertadores.  A team that has recently made some very interesting foreign acquisitions.  And a squad that already looks to have considerable depth, in some positions at least.  That club is Sao Paulo.  And leading their creative charge, with a coach who knows him and believes in him, is Paulo Henrique Ganso.

If the question about the 2014 Championship was something of a surprise, there is another enquiry I receive all the time which is much more predictable; whatever happened to Ganso?

It seems strange now, but four years ago most were convinced that of the Santos starlets the one to really watch out for was not Neymar.  Instead, it was this elegant left footed playmaker who served as his supply line.  But while Neymar has gone on from strength to strength, Ganso has yet to convincingly cross the line that divides promise from reality.

Injuries have plenty to do with this.  Ganso has experienced problems with both knees.  But there is more to it than that.  In the cold light of hindsight it seems clear that back in the opening months of 2010 many in Brazil’s footballing community were suffering from a type of collective delusion.  They were guilty of seeing only what they wanted to see.

It is an understandable lapse.  There is something deliciously old fashioned about Ganso’s game.  With his unhurried air and the subtle way he caresses the ball he came across as a throwback to a previous era, a time of slower, more artistic football.  He appealed to the romantic and the nostalgic in all of us.  People wanted him to be good, and convinced themselves that he was already the finished article.  It became normal, in those early months of 2010, to hear that Ganso was ‘the best in the world’ in his position.

Common sense had gone out of the window.  It had been forgotten that the State Championships are now so poor that they cannot be seen as a reliable measure of anything – especially the Sao Paulo tournament in 2010, when all of Santos’ main rivals were more concerned with the Copa Libertadores.

The praise also went to Ganso’s head.  How could it be otherwise?  It is not easy to be 21, as he was at the time, and be surrounded by people telling you that you are a footballing phenomenon.  He reacted angrily to his exclusion from the 2010 World Cup squad – though he was on the stand by list.  But it was hard to see what he had realistically done to justify a place on the plane to South Africa.  Kicking sand in the faces of weakling opponents in the Sao Paulo State Championship could hardly be seen as adequate preparation for the World Cup.  Both he and his supporters had conveniently forgotten that just a few months earlier his performances had been nothing more than promising in the World Under-20 Cup.  He had come up with the odd impressive moment, but had never been able to grab a game by the scruff of its neck.  Others in that midfield, especially the captain Giuliano, had been much more impressive.  He went on that year to play a key role in Internacional winning the Copa Libertadores.  Unlike Ganso, however, Guiliano did not have the Sao Paulo press in his corner, and there was no big campaign to get him into the World Cup squad.

Everything became clearer the following year, when Ganso played an unimpressive Copa America in Argentina.  Coach Mano Menezes commented after the competition that the big difficulty his side had faced was that his domestically based players were unused to the rhythm and intensity of international football.  There was little doubt that he was referring to his playmaker.

Ganso’s role is one that requires footballing maturity.  When to up the tempo and look for the killer pass, when to give priority to retention of the ball – these are not easy decisions.  The great Zidane did not become great overnight.  I well recall him in Euro 96; the promise was apparent, but in terms of fitness, mentality and, crucially, game decisions, he was still some way short.  By France 98, with two years at Juventus under his belt, it was a different story.  Similarly, Ganso in 2011 was shown up as being far from ready – it was one of the main topics in the Copa America press box, as journalists from all over the continent were able to watch and judge this player who had been presented to them by their Brazilian colleagues as the saviour of their country’s game.

How to cope when disappointment strikes?  Mano Menezes appeared to lose confidence in Ganso, and the player seemed to enter a prolonged sulk, cutting a pitiful figure as a squad member at the London Olympics.  At club level the move to Sao Paulo did little to revive his career – until Muricy Ramalho took charge last September.

Ramalho knew Ganso from working together at Santos and understood the player well enough to identify that Ganso needed to feel important.   He was brought off the substitutes bench and put into the starting line up, and responded with some of his best football in years as Sao Paulo climbed quickly away from relegation danger.

This year, then, is the big test.  A recall to the national team in time for the Word Cup might be asking too much; Brazil have plenty to talent in attacking midfield, and there is simply not enough serious football for Ganso to play and press his case before the squad is announced.

But with a secure place in a strong club side, this could be the year when Paulo Henrique Ganso finally comes good.  And in a few months I might have fewer people asking me that ‘what ever happened to…?’ question.

 

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March 03, 2015
17:29Agent Alex Firmino expects on loan Juventus midfielder Rômulo to sort his future "in the next week"
16:02Former Arsenal midfielder Edu sees "Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay" as 2015 Copa América favourites
15:41Lucas Silva is starting to generate debate as Illarramendi is statistically better
15:37Centurión and Alan Kardec fighting for the spot in the XI against Corinthians as Pato is ineligible
15:31Arsenal’s Gabriel Paulista ready to take his chance against QPR and Manchester United
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13:54Agent Stefano Castagna believes midfielder Felipe Anderson will stay at Lazio
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12:30Guangzhou extend contract with Brazilian striker Elkeson
11:25Sean Dyche praises Liverpool's Coutinho
11:15Diego Costa: 'I almost joined Liverpool before Chelsea'
11:06Garth Crooks: 'Liverpool's Coutinho is intimidated by Gerrard'
10:58Bentaleb refuses to criticize Chelsea's Costa
10:49Liverpool's Coutinho wins player of the month award
March 02, 2015
23:39Everton linked with Diego
23:32Gabriel Paulista settling well at Arsenal
23:19Brazilians in Europe: Coutinho strikes again
23:02Ramires closes in on a grand slam of trophies for Chelsea
19:45Diego Costa-Chelsea: "I have the trust of José Mourinho and my teammates"
18:39LA Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant outlines key role midfielder Juninho plays
18:29Report: Corinthians, Cruzeiro and São Paulo eye Manchester United full-back Rafael
18:14Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen hails team-mate Philippe Coutinho
18:09Sampdoria Head Coach Siniša Mihajlović compares forward Luis Muriel to Ronaldo
14:03Liverpool boss says there's more to come from Coutinho
13:58Marquinhos says Barcelona and Manchester United wanted him
13:52Liverpool legend Ronnie Whelan slams Philippe Coutinho
13:46Arsène Wenger hails Arsenal new-boy Gabriel Paulista
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22:23Jose Mourinho: "Filipe Luis played fantastic two matches against Liverpool"
19:40Manchester United:Van Gaal appears to have finally lost patience with Rafael
19:10Lucas Leiva stepped up his return from injury and prepares his come-back with Liverpool
18:55Chelsea goalkeeper's Courtois says he would include Filipe Luis his dream team
15:50Former Arsenal defender Martin Keown contemplates whether Gabriel Paulista can displace Per Mertesacker
14:01Paris Saint-Germain Manager Laurent Blanc desperate to keep defender Marquinhos
12:50Orlando City SC manager Adrian Heath pleased players have "started to trust" Kaká more
February 28, 2015
13:00Shakhtar's Douglas Costa wants to secure a regular a place in the Brazil team
11:38Marquinhos says interest from Manchester United makes him happy
11:26Douglas Costa praises Mourinho and would like to experience the Premier League with Chelsea
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February 27, 2015
13:00Court rejects Damião's second request to rescind the contract at Santos
12:55Monaco's Wallace banned for four matches
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March 03, 2015
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13:49Arsenal target Firmino worth €30m, says Hoffenheim coach
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March 02, 2015
14:03Liverpool boss says there's more to come from Coutinho
13:58Marquinhos says Barcelona and Manchester United wanted him
13:52Liverpool legend Ronnie Whelan slams Philippe Coutinho
13:46Arsène Wenger hails Arsenal new-boy Gabriel Paulista
13:32Liverpool's Balotelli can reunite with Kaká in the MLS
February 28, 2015
13:00Shakhtar's Douglas Costa wants to secure a regular a place in the Brazil team
11:38Marquinhos says interest from Manchester United makes him happy
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11:16Barcelona coach Luis Enrique has confidence in Dani Alves
01:00Lucas Moura out for at least four weeks
February 27, 2015
13:00Court rejects Damião's second request to rescind the contract at Santos
12:55Monaco's Wallace banned for four matches
12:40Barcelona fans meet Neymar after becoming the museum's 25th-million visitors
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May 18, 2014
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October 20, 2013
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October 17, 2013
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March 03, 2015
17:29Agent Alex Firmino expects on loan Juventus midfielder Rômulo to sort his future "in the next week"
16:02Former Arsenal midfielder Edu sees "Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay" as 2015 Copa América favourites
14:55Ronaldo explains to Diego Maradona why he is coming out of retirement to play for Fort Lauderdale Strikers
13:54Agent Stefano Castagna believes midfielder Felipe Anderson will stay at Lazio
13:09Real Betis forward Braian Rodríguez set to join Grêmio on loan
March 02, 2015
18:39LA Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant outlines key role midfielder Juninho plays
18:29Report: Corinthians, Cruzeiro and São Paulo eye Manchester United full-back Rafael
18:14Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen hails team-mate Philippe Coutinho
18:09Sampdoria Head Coach Siniša Mihajlović compares forward Luis Muriel to Ronaldo
March 01, 2015
15:50Former Arsenal defender Martin Keown contemplates whether Gabriel Paulista can displace Per Mertesacker
14:01Paris Saint-Germain Manager Laurent Blanc desperate to keep defender Marquinhos
12:50Orlando City SC manager Adrian Heath pleased players have "started to trust" Kaká more
February 25, 2015
19:00Fiorentina Head Coach Vincenzo Montella insists he trusts want away goalkeeper Neto
13:04Manchester United midfielder Andreas Pereira admits Juventus interest
February 24, 2015
15:05Dempo confirm midfielder Romeo Fernandes will join Atlético Paranaense on loan
15:00Orlando City SC manager Adrian Heath explains why Kaká has been appointed captain
February 23, 2015
17:30Report: Free agent Felipe will join Internazionale if they beat Celtic
17:00Fluminense forward Fred not thinking about possible Seleção return
15:00Report Fiorentina forced to field want away goalkeeper Neto against Tottenham Hotspur
February 22, 2015
17:17Barcelona Head Coach Luis Enrique refuses to blame Daniel Alves for Malaga defeat
17:06Paris Saint-Germain defender Thiago Silva condemns racist incident involving Chelsea fans on metro
16:56Fluminense Executive Director Fernando Simon confirms bids for reported Manchester United target Kenedy and Gerson
16:00Forward Jonathas pleased with Elche season and says players need to keep following manager Fran Escribá
February 18, 2015
16:55Paris Saint-Germain defender Thiago Silva insists Alex is happy at Milan
16:52Paris Saint-Germain defender Thiago Silva states he "wouldn't now" return to Milan
16:42Head Coach Pep Guardiola happy Bayern Munich kept Shakhtar Donetsk trio quiet
February 17, 2015
08:14Shakhtar Donetsk manager Mircea Lucescu: Our Brazilians want "revenge for the defeat in the World Cup" against Germany
07:41Bayern Munich Head Coach Pep Guardiola praises Shakhtar Donetsk Brazilians ahead of UEFA Champions League tie
February 16, 2015
16:29Beşiktaş defender Ramon Motta thanks club doctors for getting him fit for Bursaspor win
15:35Paris Saint-Germain defender David Luiz: "If I score against Chelsea I don't celebrate"
14:39Report: Lucas Silva to make first Real Madrid start in UEFA Champions League tie against Schalke 04
13:43Grêmio manager Luiz Felipe Scolari explains why he walked out of 1-0 defeat to Veranópolis
12:57Report: Defender Felipe to undergo medical and train with Internazionale ahead of possible move
February 15, 2015
22:41Liverpool target a Brazilian full back
19:36Report: Internazionale to move for free agent Felipe if defensive injuries persist
17:41Report: Internazionale contact Fluminense to try and secure a deal for forward Kenedy
16:07Report: Toronto FC forward Gilberto set to join Vasco da Gama on loan
15:01David Luiz notes Zlatan Ibrahimović "was one of the big reasons" why he joined Paris Saint-Germain
14:28Brazilians in Europe: Saturday round up
February 13, 2015
17:02Defender Rhodolfo happy to remain at Grêmio despite reported interest from Internazionale
16:24Report: Paris Saint-Germain to offer defender Marquinhos new deal to deter Manchester United interest
15:05Report: Querétaro forward Ronaldinho in negotiations with Girabola outfit Kabuscorp S.C.P
14:05Diego Costa compares Chelsea to Atlético de Madrid and praises team-mate Cesc Fàbregas
12:57Manager Arsène Wenger hints that defender Gabriel Paulista could make Arsenal debut in FA Cup tie against Middlesbrough
February 11, 2015
17:03Report: Fenerbahçe join Bursaspor and Galatasaray in pursuit of Atlético Paranaense-owned forward Fernandão
16:07Milan-owned forward Robinho eager to extend stay at Santos
15:07Report: Fiorentina consider move for Santos forward Gabriel Barbosa
13:39Orlando City SC defender Luke Boden hails Kaká's approach
13:09Midfielder Hernanes confident Internazionale "will prove its worth" in next four matches
February 10, 2015
18:04Midfielder Diego explains why he joined Fenerbahçe
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