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The Miracle of Brazilian Saints (Santos)

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


Last December, in an already unforgettable year for Brazilian football, saw an amazing comeback of one of the most famous sides of the country's history. After a gap of 34 years, Santos won the Brazilian Championship.
Younger readers might not know, but this is the club for which King Pele played for almost 20 years. They won several national titles, two Libertadores Cups (the South American version of the Champions League) and two World Club Championships.
Aside from Pele, Santos alone provided the Brazilian national team with several other players that took part in the victorious World Cup campaigns of 1958, 1962 and 1970.
However, Santos' comeback in 2002 is more than a tribute to old legends and might soon be remembered as a blueprint for Brazilian football. It may also serve as an example for European sides in times when buying talent is gradually replacing the process of producing it.
If Santos were fantastic on the pitch during the Pele era, chaos prevailed at financial level. The lack of good skills and intentions from the ones supposed to run the club prevented it from benefiting from the players' success and Santos seemed to have got stuck in 1974, the year the King retired.
Debts mounted and the lack of silverware gradually took the club away from the elite group of Brazilian football.
Supporters seemed to have lost the faith and even the appointment of Pele as the club's youth academy director in 1999 was regarded more as a promotional rather than an effective measure.
Nonetheless it proved to be a milestone, for Santos decided to use its young and unknown players in the 2002 Brazilian Championship. They defeated a Corinthians team that was full of more experienced and famous players. Santos' players had an average age of 22 years.
Two of Santos main weapons were teenagers: midfielder Diego (17) and striker Robinho (18). They impressed football fans in Brazil and their presence in the national team seems inevitable.
They will probably be playing abroad soon, for the Brazilian game is still fond of the money from European clubs and giants like Real Madrid and AC Milan have already approached Santos directors.
The evidence that silverware or survival in a league is only guaranteed by a huge wage bill prevails, but the success of Santos may go some way to dispelling the current myth that it doesn't pay off to trust your first team shirts to youngsters or non-star players.



Fernando Duarte, January 2003

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