2002 Santos FC Golden Generation: Where Are They Now?
It was 2002 and nobody in Brazil believed an economically stricken team like Santos could actually transcend in the Brasileirão."Os Meninos da Vila" (the children from Vila Belmiro) surprised everybody in Brazil.
After barely qualifying to the final stage of the tournament with a low eighth place, "O Peixe"played inspired and eliminated No. 1 seeded Sao Paulo in quarter finals.
The extremely talented youngsters proceeded to eliminate Gremio in the semi finals and reach the championship series to play a powerful Corinthians team.
In the first leg, Santos won 2-0 and in the second game, they won 3-2 with Robinho's famous seven step-overs that lead to the game-winning goal.
Many of the top notch players of the squad, named ¨Os Meninos da Vila¨ (the children of Vila Belmiro), left for Europe immediately after earning the coveted silverware, while others stayed in Brazil for a few years. Many might wonder what became of the paramount players of the 2002 Santos FC Golden Generation, and those questions will be properly answered in the next 10 slides.
Leonardo Lourenco Bastos
Leonardo Lourenco Bastos, also known as "Leo", made his debut in 1996 with Uniao Sao Joao, and after playing six months with Palmeiras, he proceeded to join Santos FC.
Since July 2000 he became a crucial part of the team that eventually won the 2002 Brasileirão. A natural born dribbler, and an extremely accurate passer, Leo joined Diego, Robinho, Alex and others in the quest that ended with Santos FC winning the title.
After a fructuous five-year spell with "O Peixe," he joined Benfica, where he had impressive performances that led him to the Seleção. In 2009, he returned to Santos FC.
Some call him hotheaded, some might even label him as maniacal but the truth is that Fábio Costa gave Santos the ferocity and strength they needed to succeed.
A colossal "goleiro" (goalkeeper), Fábio Costa is known for his sacrifice and his penalty stopping abilities. He was an essential part of "Os Meninos da Vila."
After playing more than 300 matches with the Brazilian giants, he left in 2010 in order to join the "Galos" (roosters) of Atletico Mineiro on a year-long loan.
André Luis García
André Luis García, or simply known as André, was one of the main pillars of the defense of the 2002 Santos FC team.
A harsh, relentless central defender, André helped goakeeper Fábio Costa and captain Paulo Almeida mantain a relatively clean goal, something that was essential to the retention of the Brasileirão.
Not very technically gifted, this 1.92 m giant possesses what many defenders lack: back bone and determination.
After leaving Santos in 2005, he played in Benfica, Olympique du Marseille and then returned Brazil to play for Cruzeiro, Botafogo, Grémio Barueri, Sao Paulo and is currently representing Fluminense.
Paulo Almeida was the heart and soul of the 2002 Santos FC team that took home the Brasileirão.
He wasn't the most talented of players, but he made up with tremendous muscle and might. He carried out his role as captain with superiority, giving the team the leadership they needed to succeed.
After leaving Santos, he had a two-year spell at Benfica and later returned to native Brazil to play for Corinthians, Coritiba, Nautico, ABC, Uniao Esporte Clube and is currently playing for Saba Qom F.C. in Iran.
Renato Dirnei Florencio
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As we approach the most important player in the Santos FC Golden Generation, Renato Dirnei Florencio does not stay behind.
This bodacious attacking midfielder is the player that served as a perfect link between attack and midfield. Renato can pass, shoot, run and dribble like few others, and he also has a very accurate and powerful header.
Renato Dirnei has the technique required to be remembered for ages, and he will most probably be recalled by the Vila Belmiro fans that hold him in their highest regards. After playing four years with Santos, he signed with Sevilla FC, where he has maintained his fantastic level for the past seven years.
Alex Rodrigo Dias Da Costa
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Not even the staff from The Bachelor could've found a more perfect couple than Alex and André Luis.
Alex Rodrigo Dias da Costa, more commonly referred to as Alex, is one of the game's best centre backs, a robust yet skillful player.
His leadership skills and the ability to execute cannonball free kicks have earned Alex the respect he deserves. He teamed up with André Luis to form a terrifying defense, that held up flawlessly against players like Kaká.
Two years after obtaining the title in Brazil, he signed with Chelsea, who lent him to Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven for three years. He would later be granted the coveted work permit to join the Blues, where he currently plays.
In 2002, at only 21 years old, Elano Blumer was the extremely gifted midfielder who played an important role for the Santos FC 2002 team.
Elano has won the respect of all Brazil thanks to his ability, his goal scoring talent and his impetuous yet gifted moves.
Elano is one of the players that gave "Os Meninos da Vila" the extra edge needed in order to succeed.
After leaving Santos in 2004, he joined Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk, were he played for three years. He later joined Manchester City, Turk giants Galatasaray and is currently back playing for Santos FC, the team in which he is most fondly remembered by.
Diego Ribas Da Cunha
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One of the most brilliant players of the Santos FC 2002 golden generation, Diego Ribas da Cunha, more commonly known as Diego, was the perfect piece to match Brazilian speedster Robinho.
Ribas made his debut with Santos in 2002 at only 16 years of age and had an instant impact on the team by scoring jaw-dropping goals and displaying his masterful talent. Like many of his companions, Diego left Santos in 2004 to try his luck in Europe, something he wouldn't achieve immediately.
He had a couple of acceptable seasons in FC Porto, but he showed the world what he could truly do in Werder Bremen. Diego had a most impressive three-year spell at the German side and then joined Juventus in 2010.
He apparently has a knack for playing in the Bundesliga because he returned there to play for VFL Wolfsburg, where he currently displays his skills.
Robson De Souza
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Yes, we have finally arrived at the No. 1 spot of the best players of the 2002 Santos FC golden generation, and it certainly won't be disappointing.
The best player is... Robson de Souza, better known as Robinho. Due to the lack of funds, Robinho, along with Diego, was promoted to the Santos FC first team in 2002, and even though Santos hadn't won anything since Pele's era, the pressure seemed to slip off right away from this gifted attacker.
Speed, ability and flare, this Brazilian star made sure Santos returned to the global spotlight. "O Rei do Drible" (king of dribbling), Robinho had shocking performances with the Vila Belmiro side, scoring incredible goals and giving everybody a taste of his talent.
After spending three years with Santos FC, Robinho tried his luck in Real Madrid, where he played for three years. Dubbed by Pele as "better than Messi," he then left the Merengues to join Manchester City, where he was reunited with his old teammate Elano.
After just a year in England, he was loaned to Santos FC, and after playing in his native country for only six months, he was hired by AC Milan, where he currently forms one of Europe's most feared attacking forces alongside Alexandre Pato and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Well, we have arrived to the end of what I hope was an interesting journey. These nine players are the best and most recognized stars of the Santos FC team that made history in 2002.
Not many people thought they could do it, but with the spirit of Pele, the love of the torcedores, the warmth of Vila Belmiro and the bliss that only a gifted set of youngsters could acquire, this team made history.
P.S. This was my first article, please do not hesitate to comment on it!