The story of Santos will always be inextricably linked and defined by Pele. This is perhaps inevitable, any club would be defined by a player widely recognised to be one of the best footballers of all time. However even before Pele, Santos were a reasonably successful club, having won the Brazilian state championship in 1935 and 1955. The clubs trajectory was completely altered though in 1956, when Valdemar de Brito invited a mere 15 year old named Pele to sign for the club. The rest, as they say, is history. From the Brazilian culture of poverty and street soccer (he couldn’t afford boots or a ball, so played barefoot with a stuffed sock), Pele rose to the pinnacle of the worlds game. In twenty years at Santos, Pele scored a frankly ridiculous 1087 goals in 1120 matches.
While Pele was the standout performer he was part of an incredibly talented team, with a defensive base of World Cup winning goalkeeper Gilmar and defenders Mauro and Zito. Going forward they had an outside left with a ferocious shot in Pepe and the mercurial talents of Dorval on the right. Up front to partner Pele was his so called ‘twin’ Coutinho, and they developed an almost telepathic relationship on the pitch. This team played some truly magical football, attacking with great numbers with wonderful interplay and outstanding individuals. Such was the global popularity of the team they travelled all over the world playing friendlies, enthralling supporters everywhere they played. During these golden years for the club won the Intercontinental cup twice, the Copa Libertados twice, six national championships and thirteen state championships.
Peixe has never reached the staggering heights of the sixties again, but is still a prominent force in Brazilian football, especially in youth development. This is due to the Youth Division Department which is at the forefront of modern youth development techniques. The club has over 100 youngsters on its books and they have some incredible facilities such as a top class gym similar to the first teams and the Centre of Performance Development to Soccer. The youth teams are famous globally, often invited to international youth tournaments such as the Turin tournament which was won by Santos U 20′s. The ethos of youth development came to fruition in 2002, when the club turned 90 years old. Santos won the Campeonato Brasileiro (Brazilian Championship) for the seventh time, with the players forming the team nearly all from Santos Youth Divisions. The Meninos da Vila (literally boys from the vila because of their youth) were in the spotlight. All over Brazil Diego and Robinho became a symbol of a joyful and impressive way of playing.
The production line of Santos has been incredible: from the former greats of Pele, Coutinho and Clodoaldo, to modern talents such as Diego, Robinho, Elano, Alex as well as the current stars Ganso And Neymar. The Santos (one now ex-Santos) attacking trident of Robinho-Neymar-Ganso started in Brazil’s recent friendly against the US, with Neymar scoring and all three impressing, perhaps representing the next generation for Brazil. The two current stars Neymar and Ganso represent much that is good about Santos: developed through the youth teams, prodigiously talented and wonderful to watch. The club has left a great legacy to football and still enjoy success today. In 2010 they won the Copa do Brasil as well as the Campeonato Paulista, which will have brought a smile to the face of one ex-player in particular.