Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Like the ghosts of Shoeless Joe Jackson and the rest in Field of Dreams, slowly they slip away, back into the rows of corn. There will be no festa da despedida, no cheering crowds wishing them boa sorte, no champagne bottles smashed against this prow. It is on to pastures new, if not greener, for less than valiant tricolor guerreiros Alexandre Silva, Fernando Gaúcho, Ludemar, Washington, Walter, Roma, Bruno Leite, Cleber Goiano, Ricardinho and Leandrinho.

Each represented distinct phases of 2011. Laterals Bruno Leite and Alexandre Silva arrived twelve months ago, projected to be Santa`s Roberto Carlos and Cafu, and SAD imagined the pair buccaneering up and down the wings, terrorising opposing full backs, fierce in the tackle, strong in the handshake, generous and attentive to their womenfolk in bed.

Almost. After two games Bruno Leite was replaced by the equally hapless Jackson and, apart from a stand-in appearance against Cabense in February, was never seen again. Jackson himself lasted in the first team until March, as did Alexandre, when rational thinking returned to Arruda and the two were replaced by Cleber Goiano and Renatinho.

Ricardinho and Leandrinho arrived on the same day in July. Ricardinho was a meia and Leandrinho an atacante. Or maybe Leandrinho was a meia and Ricardinho was an atacante. The plan was to add enough midfield nous and attacking spark to put the all-conquering champions of Pernambuco over the top in Serie D. Continuing the lexicographical confusion, debuts were made as substitutes against Santa Cruz (Rio Grande Do Norte), on 14th August. After that, like drinking Pitu and cerebral aneurysm, our two friends were rarely separated. Four games later it was the end of the first team line for Dastardly and Muttley.

Ludemar and Fernando Gaúcho, meanwhile, joined Larry (Kiros), Curly (Caça-Rato), Moe (Thiago Cunha) and the rest, in the ensemble comedy that was Santa’s post-Gilberto front line. In the madcap scramble for promotion from Serie D, coach Zé Teodoro adopted a score-or-you’re-out policy. This understandably proved to be a problem for our heroes, for whom, in terms of difficulty, scoring goals was on a par with reciting the Koran backwards. Ludemar and Gaúcho were each called up each three times (approximately – SAD really hasn’t the energy to check) and dropped three times.*

Affectionate joshing (truly, SAD swears, in the event that he should ever happen to bump into any of the above mentioned players) apart, there is a sad story at work here. For Serie D and to a lesser extent Serie C, particularly in the more remote regions of this footballing kingdom, is the Slough of Despond of Brazilian football, the hard knock cousin of o jogo bonito. Few of these players earn huge amounts of money. Fewer still will go on to greater things after Santa - in recent years only Gilberto (Internacional), Leo (Botafogo, briefly, now back at Santa) and Carlinhos Paraíba (São Paulo) have taken great leaps forward after Arruda.**

It is an annual event, this drifting in and drifting out of players. The short Serie D and Serie C campaigns (most tricolores these days dream not of a Libertadores final against Boca Juniors but of the simple pleasure of a 38 game, pontos corridos season), and the terrible pressure they create for a big club like Santa, mean that only the chosen few stay very long. This year, at least, Santa kept playing until December, meaning contracts could be honoured. In other years, early elimination from Serie D meant the club, with no fixtures and so no money to pay wages, has had to buy its players out, and grant them early release.

And for the supporter, how can one remember, let alone love, players who stay only for a game or two? A glance back over the teamsheets of the past brings up names that only the obsessive statistician will remember.  SAD  is not an obsessive statistician, and worse, after years of Pitu abuse, is the possessor of an at best fractious memory.

Take 2008`s Titanic-esque Serie C campaign. SAD was at the Amigão in Campina Grande for that first game against Campinense (a 2-1 defeat, no reader will be very much surprised to learn). He can remember Memo from that day, and a clutch of others, including the excellent Juninho, doughty Alexandre Oliviera, and grizzled 63 year old striker Edmundo. Even Gilberto appeared, briefly, showing what a slowly mellowing wine he turned out to be.

But Garrinchina, and Esquerdinha? Who the Marcus Valerio were they? They didn’t feature much – both were dropped a few weeks later following another slapstick defeat, this time 3-0 against Potiguar. Other than the odd spot start, neither would feature again. SAD has no recollection of either.

There are a hundred such names. Adilson, lateral during 2009`s Campeonato Pernambucano, was a great favourite of SAD, as can be seen here. Whither Adilson today? Nobody, certainly not Google, seems to know.  Midfield schemer Leandro Gobatto, who was to be the Zidane of 2009’s victorious Serie D promotion campaign, fares a little better, with his own Youtube show-reel and even a Wikipedia page. Unfortunately, neither provides any information of what happened after his year at Santa.

Can anyone remember zagueiro Daniel Horst, who played against Ypiranga in the Campeonato Pernambucano in 2009? A Daniel Horst has just rolled up at Botafogo-SP. Could it be our hero? SAD suspects it must be. There can`t be too many Daniel Horsts in the Brasileirão. Add one, then, to the list of former Santa players whose career has if not flourished then at least continued, post Arruda.

What of calamitous lateral Robinho, loaned from Atlético de Alagoinhas in Bahia for the Pernambucano in 2010? Once his time was up at Arruda (which, one suspects, might have been a few minutes into his first training session), Robinho presumably wandered the dusty roads back to Alagoinhas. After that, the trail runs cold.

No such discussion would be complete without a mention of the fabled Thomas Anderson. SAD can’t remember when Thomas first surfaced at Arruda, but knows that he has played in, and been released immediately after, every competition that Santa have contested since 2008. SAD feels confident that when this blog is in its dotage, a decade or so from now, Thomas Anderson will once more be giving interviews in the Recife press, saying that he has matured and is confident that this is the year when he really makes his mark.

Last but not least comes the great Paulo Rangel. A feared goal getter at Salgueiro in 2009, Santa signed Paulo for one solitary, make-or-break contest. Only a win against CSA at Arruda, in the last Serie D game that year, would keep Santa`s promotion chances alive. Paulo, surely, would make that win a reality. Readers will guess the rest. Santa drew 2-2, Rangel missed a boatload of chances. It would be Serie D again in 2010.

And after that? Like the ghost of Shoeless Joe, Paulo Rangel drifted away into the corn. Literally, in this case. Mr Rangel spent 2011 with Cuiabá, in Brazil’s very own Iowa, Mato Grosso.

To finish, no such baseball-referencing wafflings would be complete without a little bit of Roger Angell. How about this gem, on sporting ghosts, the difficulties proved by box score induced abbreviations, and the Robbie Burns spirit?

Not even a latter-day O. Henry would risk a conte like the true, electrifying history of a pitcher named Pete Jablonowski, who disappeared from the Yankees in 1933 after several seasons of inept relief work with various clubs. Presumably disheartened by seeing the losing pitcher listed as “J’bl’n’s’i” in the box scores of his day, he changed his name to Pete Appleton in the semi-privacy of the minors, and came back to win fourteen games for the Senators in 1936, and continue in the majors for another decade.  

* SAD shouldn`t be too harsh on Ludemar and Gaúcho – the pair ultimately scored the goals that got Santa out of Serie D. But boy, was it a struggle.

** Those bouncing up and down in their seats at the back shouting about Gledson and Thiago Mathias can pipe down. Recife Jr, Serie A or not, is nobody`s idea of progress, and neither is being relegated with Ceará.

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