THE BRAZILIAN NUMBER 10: OSCAR AND GANSO

Oscar (left) and Ganso (right) are both Brazilian numer 10’s who’s careers have taken different paths. ***image courtesy of lancenet.com***

Few would disagree. One of the most pleasuring sights in football is witnessing a player in the yellow of Brazil prancing around on the pitch with a ball at his feet. If the green coloured number on his back appears as the number 10, then that sight is even better.

At the Copa America last year, it was Paulo Henrique Ganso. At the London Olympics, it was Oscar. Two young bright talents taking upon the responsibilities that come with the jersey number so revered by their countrymen due to the influence of one Edison Arantes do Nascimento – Pele to you and me.

Oscar is the younger of the two. An unknown before travelling to the Olympics, he would later become a household name. Not because of the final that Brazil lost in London, but because of the deal that he signed with a club from London. Chelsea paid SC Internacional  a huge sum of money to lure him. Now the question was not who this Oscar was, but why.

Oscar has done more than enough to answer that. Inheriting the number 11 jersey that Didier Drogba used to wear, he has gone on to display performances that seem to guarantee the Chelsea faithful that this number 11 may just be as decisive for Chelsea in the future as the past one was. His best night has to be the Champions League night against Juventus. A double that included a peach of a goal; a touch round Andrea Pirlo and on the turn, curling it past Gigi Buffon. A star was born.

But while Oscar’s star is on the rise, Ganso’s star seems to be in meteoritic fall. Once hailed as Brazil’s natural heir to the number 10 jersey, he is now a forgotten man.

Days after Oscar’s brilliant performance against Juventus, Paulo Henrique Ganso made the move from Santos to Sao Paulo. Hardly front page headline stuff.  One year ago, this would have been unimaginable. Ganso looked set to make a big money move to Europe with AC Milan one of his suitors. But now, rather than move upwards, he has moved sideways.

Talented, languid, elegant, Ganso is the embodiement of the Brazilian number 10. The enganché, which is much more than a position but a cultural necessity in South American football. He is one for the old fashioned football romantics, a man whose vision and passing brings unfounded joy. As his best friend Neymar once described him, he is a left footed Zidane.

But now he is suffering the curse of being the right player in the right country, at the wrong time. Any other football era and Brazilians, just as they did a year ago, would have embraced Ganso. Unfortunately for him, football has gone past the era of enganché. You cannot now, in modern football, have a player who sits around in midfield, waiting for the ball to come to him so that he can produce the killer pass. Football is no longer a game for Riqulemes, but for Iniestas. No longer a game for enganches, but mezzalas and registas. Of deep lying playmakers. Football is in the era of Guardiolaism.

And that is not the only reason behind Ganso’s decline. He has been set back by two knee injuries despite only being 22. Time away from the pitch has meant that he hasn’t yet regained his form. That has also meant that rather than wait for Ganso, the Brazilian euphoria has completely shifted to Neymar. Best of friends, they used to be Santos’s double act. But now, the duet has turned into a solo, and Ganso has missed out. Where it used to be Neymar and Ganso, now it is Neymar, Neymar, Neymar.  Everyone’s forgotten about Ganso.

Now, the Brazilian number 10 jersey has also shifted. Now, it is Oscar’s. It would be futile to dispute. Oscar is the more complete player. He works the lines better, presses more and runs and runs. Ganso is the exact opposite. And whilst in the past, his magical left foot would have been enough, now it isn’t.

Two stars, different paths. Oscar and Ganso. Oscar’s star is surely going to continue shining brightly at Chelsea. How Ganso hopes that his star can be re-ignited at Sao Paulo.

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