Santos, after an illustrious 111-year history, recently faced the unfortunate event of relegation from Brazil Serie A for the first time. The aftermath turned chaotic, with supporters resorting to riots, setting cars and buses on fire.
Throughout their rich history, Santos has been a cradle of football talent, from the era of Pele to nurturing stars like Neymar. However, in the current landscape, modern-era talents haven’t stayed with the club as long as legends like Pele, who made over 600 appearances before his move to the New York Cosmos in 1975.
Despite winning the Campeonato Paulista in 2016, Santos has faced challenges. They lost the 2020 Copa Libertadores final 1-0 to Palmeiras and are now grappling with relegation. The constant departure of their top players to European clubs adds to the difficulty of sustaining success. Santos are currently managed by ex-defender Marcelo Fernandes.
Best Santos XI: Forging a Dream Team: Santos Alumni Lineup – A Fusion of Legends and Modern Stars
In this context, let’s imagine a lineup for Santos comprising all their standout alumni from different eras, contemplating how formidable they could be if they could bring back every active Santista at once.
GK: Rafael Cabral
- Age: 33
- Current club: Cruzeiro
- Games played for Santos: 189
Hailing from Sorocaba, Rafael Cabral’s journey in football kicked off in 2003 when he joined the Santos youth system. The year 2010 marked his ascent to the first team, but fate dealt him a tough blow when a split with the center back Domingos led to a broken right leg, putting him on the sidelines for a grueling four months.
Finally making his debut in an official game for Santos on June 2, 2010, against Cruzeiro in Mineirão, Rafael stepped into the shoes of Felipe, who had held the position in the previous 37 matches of the season, in a match that ended in a 0–0 draw.
In a significant turn of events, Rafael made the leap to Italian side Napoli on June 28, 2013, with the Azzurri securing his talents for €5 million. Fast forward to July 22, 2018, and Rafael Cabral embarked on a new chapter, signing a free transfer deal with U.C. Sampdoria. However, this stint concluded on August 5, 2019, as Sampdoria announced the mutual termination of Rafael’s contract.
The narrative took an exciting turn on August 6, 2019, when Reading unveiled the signing of Rafael on a three-year contract. His debut against Wycombe Wanderers in the EFL Cup showcased his prowess as he saved two penalties in a thrilling shootout victory.
After nine years in Europe, Rafael returned to his roots, signing a two-year contract with Série A club Cruzeiro on January 19, 2022. The seasoned goalkeeper had come full circle, bringing his wealth of experience back to Brazilian football.
- Age: 32
- Current club: Juventus
- Games played for Santos: 78
Danilo’s football journey is a tale of triumph and success. It all began with América Mineiro, where he laid the foundation for his career before making a pivotal move to Santos. His time with Santos reached its pinnacle in 2011 when he scored the decisive goal that clinched the coveted 2011 Copa Libertadores.
The year 2012 marked a new chapter as Danilo ventured into Portuguese football, joining the ranks of Porto. Success continued to follow him as he secured consecutive Primeira Liga titles during his stint with the club.
A major milestone came in 2015 when Real Madrid beckoned, and Danilo made the switch after a substantial €31.5 million transfer fee. His time at the iconic club added to his laurels, contributing to their storied history.
In 2017, a new chapter unfolded as he donned the colors of Manchester City. The ensuing years were a testament to his skill and dedication, with two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, and two EFL Cups adorning his achievements with the English club.
The allure of Italian football beckoned in 2019, leading Danilo to Juventus. True to form, success followed him as he clinched the Serie A title in his inaugural season with the Turin-based club.
CB: Gustavo Henrique
- Age: 30
- Current club: Real Valladoid
- Games played for Santos: 216
Gustavo Henrique, a product of the Santos youth academy, has displayed significant promise in his career, overcoming two serious knee injuries in his early years. Despite these setbacks, he showcased his talent and contributed to Santos winning the Campeonato Paulista title in both 2015 and 2016. His outstanding performances earned him a spot in the competition’s Team of the Year.
Capped twice by Brazil’s Under-23 team, Henrique later moved to Flamengo, where he played a key role in winning the Repoca Sudamericana. After a year with Flamengo, he embarked on a loan to Turkish side Fenerbahce, but shortly thereafter, he made a move to Real Valladolid, co-owned by Ronaldo Nazario, competing in the Spanish La Liga Second Tier or Segunda Division. This transfer occurred on a free transfer, and he is currently active with the team.
- Age: 36
- Current club: Western Sydney Wanderers FC
- Games played for Santos: 65
Marcelo, who emerged from the Santos academy in 2007, enjoyed two fruitful seasons at the Vila Belmiro. During this period, he secured a Campeonato Paulista victory before making a significant move to Europe, joining Polish club Wisla Krakow 13 years ago.
His journey across the continent included stops at PSV Eindhoven, Hannover 96, and Besiktas, demonstrating his versatility as a defender. Marcelo eventually found his home at Lyon, where he served as the captain and led his team to a Champions League semi-final, notably defeating powerhouses like Juventus and Manchester City. After departing Lyon on a free transfer, he joined Bordeaux and currently plays for Western Sydney.
LB: Alex Sandro
- Age: 32
- Current club: Juventus
- Games played for Santos: 53
Alex Sandro, a skilled attacking full-back, had a stint at Santos on loan from Deportivo Maldonado following his move from Atletico Paranaense. During his sole season with Santos, he made a significant impact, featuring in 53 matches. Subsequently, his talent caught the attention of Porto, and in 2011, he officially joined the Portuguese club.
Over four successful seasons with Porto, where he won two league titles, Alex Sandro’s impressive performances paved the way for a move to Juventus in 2015. Since then, he has solidified his position as one of the best left-backs in world football.
CM: Thiago Maia
- Age: 26
- Current club: Flamengo
- Games played for Santos: 122
Thiago Maia, a promising talent developed in the Santos academy, became the latest homegrown starlet to be lured away by a wealthy European club when Lille secured his signature in 2017. Making his debut for Santos at the age of 17, he swiftly established himself as a regular presence in the club’s midfield.
Notably, alongside Renato Augusto, Thiago Maia played a pivotal role in Brazil’s midfield, contributing significantly to their Olympic gold victory in Rio, where they defeated Germany in the final via penalties. During the 2018/19 season, he played a crucial role as a midfield enforcer, aiding Lille in climbing to second place in the Ligue 1 table. However, he has since returned to Brazil and is currently with Flamengo.
- Age: 38
- Current club: Retired
- Games played for Santos: 127
Diego, another product of the Santos youth academy, joined the club in 1996 and made his way into the first team in 2002. After two years of contributing to the first team, he made a move to Porto before signing with Werder Bremen just two years later. During his time with the German club, the Brazilian proved to be outstanding, scoring 24 goals in 87 games, which led to a significant transfer to Juventus in 2009.
Despite an initial move to Juventus, Diego experienced a falling out with then-manager Ciro Ferrara, prompting his departure after just one season, much to the dismay of the fans. He then signed for Wolfsburg in 2010, spending four seasons at the club. While there, he went on a loan spell to Atletico Madrid in 2011, contributing to Atleti’s Europa League victory.
Impressed by his loan performance, Atletico Madrid secured Diego on a permanent basis. During the 2013/14 season, he played a crucial role in Atletico’s La Liga title win and their runner-up finish in the Champions League. Subsequently, Diego played for Fenerbahce in the Turkish top flight before making a return to Brazil with Flamengo on a free transfer in 2016. Since then, he has played a key role in helping Flamengo secure titles in Campeonato Carioca, Serie A, Copa Libertadores, and Recopa Sudamericana before retiring this year.
RW: Felipe Anderson
- Age: 28
- Current club: Lazio
- Games played for Santos: 106
Anderson’s swift ascent to Santos’ first team was somewhat serendipitous, as it resulted from an injury crisis to the Santastico. However, once he showcased his technical prowess and skill on the pitch, he secured a regular spot in the starting XI.
The agile Brazilian played a crucial role in Santos’ memorable Copa Libertadores triumph in 2011. Subsequently, in 2013, Lazio expressed interest in acquiring his services, and Anderson continued to dazzle supporters with his mesmerizing performances at the Stadio Olimpico. This led to speculation about a potential high-profile move to one of Europe’s elite clubs.
In the summer of 2018, West Ham secured the talents of the 2016 Olympic Gold Medal winner, signing Anderson for a club-record fee. Despite a promising start, his impact diminished, and he returned to Lazio.
- Age: 31
- Current club: Al-Hilal
- Games played for Santos: 225
Neymar, hailed as Santos’ golden boy, dedicated a decade to the club, joining the youth academy in 2003. With scintillating dribbling skills and remarkable flair, the Brazilian sensation scored an impressive 136 goals in 223 games for Santos before securing a monumental move to Barcelona in 2013.
His time with Santos was marked by winning six trophies, and this success continued in Spain as he played a pivotal role in Barcelona’s lethal M.S.N. strikeforce, alongside Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi. Neymar contributed significantly to Barcelona’s triumphs, including the coveted Champions League trophy.
In 2017, PSG made history by signing Neymar for £198m, making him the world’s most expensive player at that time. Despite his primary focus on helping PSG secure their first-ever Champions League title, the elusive trophy remained beyond reach. Neymar has since moved on from PSG and is currently playing for the Saudi League side Al-Hilal, though he is presently sidelined due to an injury.
LW: Rodrygo Goes
- Age: 22
- Current club: Real Madrid
- Games played for Santos: 45
Rodrygo Goes, the current poster boy of Santos’ esteemed academy, represents the latest prodigiously gifted starlet to emerge from the club’s illustrious production line. His meteoric rise to prominence prompted Real Madrid to swiftly secure his signature, fearing competition from eternal rivals Barcelona for Santos’ next world-class winger, reminiscent of Neymar.
Real Madrid invested approximately £40m to bring the teenager to the club. In the famous white shirt, Rodrygo has already demonstrated considerable promise, notably scoring a perfect hat-trick against Galatasaray in the Champions League. During his debut season, he netted seven goals in 26 appearances across all competitions, showcasing his talent and potential.
ST: Gabriel Barbosa
- Age: 27
- Current club: Flamengo
- Games played for Santos: 157
Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa’s journey in European football had its share of ups and downs. After making his Serie A debut with Inter in 2016, he expressed enchantment with the fans, but within a year, his agent spoke of his humiliation both physically and psychologically. During that period, he had limited playing time and struggled to make a significant impact, managing only one league goal.
However, his story took a dramatic turn when he joined Flamengo on loan in 2019. In the Copa Libertadores final against River Plate, with Flamengo trailing 1-0 in the 88th minute, Gabigol scored twice in minutes 89 and 90+2, securing victory for Flamengo and becoming South American champions after nearly four decades. He ended the Copa Libertadores campaign as the top scorer with 9 goals, replicating this success in the 2019 Brazilian Serie A campaign with 25 goals, helping Flamengo win the competition.
His remarkable achievements led Flamengo to pay €20m to sign him permanently from Inter. Despite challenges in European football, Gabriel Gabigol Barbosa stands out as a box office player, and he now proudly holds the title of ‘South American Footballer of the Year,’ as determined by Uruguay’s El Pais.