What Happened to Santos and Brazil Playmaker Paulo Henrique Ganso?

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What Happened to Santos and Brazil Playmaker Paulo Henrique Ganso?
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As Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari pondered his final cast list for the FIFA World Cup, the discussion pieces across Brazilian newspapers, television channels and radio stations were endless.

 

Would it be Maicon or Rafinha who got the second right-back spot? Maxwell or Filipe Luis on the left? Is Philippe Coutinho deserving of a place after an excellent season at title-hunting Liverpool?

One name conspicuous by its absence was that of Paulo Henrique Ganso. The former Santos wonderkid, who came through the Vila Belmiro ranks at the same time as Neymar and was prophesied as the next Zinedine Zidane, even by Neymar himself, has not been given so much as a cursory mention in the biggest sporting debate in the country.

It was easy to note similarities between the young Brazilian and the legendary Frenchman. His poise on the ball, vision and exemplary passing were all reminiscent of the three-time World Player of the Year in his pomp.

Jorge Araujo/Associated Press
Ganso and Neymar came through the ranks at Santos together.

But, while Neymar's career has continued its meteoric rise, Ganso's has plummeted to earth with a bump. In the infancy of their professional life, the two were whispered in the same breath, like some kind of Batman and Robin goal-chasing duo.

There was genuine outrage and confusion at Dunga's reluctance to call-up Ganso for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. But there was also understanding that, at 20 years of age, he was one for the future.

Yet, four years later, the reality remains that the world is still waiting for Ganso to translate that potential into true top-class form.

He has endured an awful run of luck with injuries, but he has also been handed chances to impress at international level and failed to live up to his enormous reputation.

Having been roundly ignored by Dunga, his successor Mano Menezes installed the fan favourite for the 2011 Copa America in Argentina. This was supposed to be it.

Ricardo Mazalan/Associated Press
Ganso failed to shine at the 2011 Copa America

The first step on a three-year journey that would see the deft playmaker seize the No. 10 Selecao shirt and not let go for a decade.

But Ganso, like the Brazil team, fell flat at the tournament. He failed to turn in one productive performance as the side exited at the quarter-final stage, following a penalty shootout defeat to Paraguay.

He was in the squad for the Olympic Games the following year, but by then Chelsea's Oscar was already on his tail. In the final, the most important match of Menezes' managerial career, he went with Oscar over Ganso in the playmaking role.

In a little over a year and still only 22, it appeared he was already going backwards.

Gallo Images/Getty Images
Oscar got the nod at the 2012 Olympic Games and has never looked back.

He left Santos in acrimonious circumstances later that year. Reportedly unhappy with the contract on offer, he became embroiled in a battle with club directors, as reported by UOL Esporte (link in Portuguese). His exit was inevitable.

Despite being linked with some of Europe's biggest names, including AC Milan, poor form and knee injuries meant a move to the Morumbi and Sao Paulo FC.

There, under renowned coach Muricy Ramalho, he had a chance to start over and build on his promise.

Ramalho is one of the most revered coaches in the Brazilian game. At Sao Paulo, between 2006 and 2008, he became the first manager to lead a club to three successive league titles.

Two years later, he lifted the 2010 Campeonato Brasileiro with Fluminense, despite star striker Fred missing over half the season with injury.

And last year he proved his credentials at the foot of the table, saving Sao Paulo from what at one point looked a likely relegation to a comfortable mid-table finish.

Jonne Roriz/Getty Images
Ganso has run into yet more problems at Sao Paulo.

This season, the club look like they could challenge for top honours again. Having signed striker Alexandre Pato on loan from rivals Corinthians, Ramalho initially opted for a front triangle of Ganso operating behind a pairing of Pato and Luis Fabiano.

However, the 24-year-old has once again fallen short. He has been banished to the reserves for openly criticising the team's tactics, as reported by UOL Esporte (link in Portuguese). Meanwhile, Alan Kardec has arrived from Palmeiras, putting the supposed heir to Zidane's throne even further out of sight.

It is hard to see where Ganso goes from here; 2014 was supposed to be his year.

Out of sight, out of mind, the old adage goes. Completely forgotten by Scolari, he currently faces an uphill struggle just to find his way back onto a football pitch.

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