TheHardTackle looks back at the team to have won the first treble of world football
Santos Futbol Clube, a symbol of the Joga Bonito of Brazilian sporting culture is one of the most decorated institutions of Latin American football. Having lifted the Brasiliero Serie A(The Brazilian Serie A) for a record 20 times alongside a host of other silverware, the Peixe have been acclaimed as the most successful club of Brazil. Besides a glittering trophy room, the team from Vila Belmiro boast of a conveyor belt of talent that does not have many equals in terms of setting a legacy that carries on even after almost half a century on from its inception.
It all began in 1956 – Santos were the undisputed champions of Sao Paulo having won back to back state championships. But there lingered an urge to transform the team’s good fortunes in the state championship to the bigger platform of the Brasileiro Serie A. Waldemar, the then retired Brazilian striker brought a 15 year old kid named Edson Nascimento to the Santos board with a rather bold claim – “This kid is going to be the best player in the world!”
Given the striker’s pedigree and the respect he demanded, the board did not turn a deaf ear to his words and handed the kid a trial in a pre-season friendly against rival club Corinthians. The intensity was rather mellow compared to a normal league meeting between the two eternal rivals but there was to be no letup from the 15 year old who scored a goal in a victory of landslide margins for Santos. Pele was the heart-beat of everything good put together by the Piexe – in a sizzling performance of skill and desire, Edson defied his age to put in an attacking masterclass. Brazil took notice of a prodigy.
In the following season, Santos handed Pele his first professional contract as he established himself in the first team. At the age of 16, he ended the season as top-scorer, guiding Santos to a league championship along the way. A World cup triumph in 1958 was only the beginning of a landmark international career and another league title in 1961 propelled Pele to the status of Santos’s king.
However, the main plot of the story was yet to come. After crushing Bahia in the Taca Brasil, Santos booked their place in the 1962 Copa Libertadores – the pinnacle for any footballer in the Western Hemisphere. Penarol, the Uruguayan powerhouse had already won the title twice since its inception in 1960 and any chances of winning it for a third year running would be difficult given the emergence of the Piexe and so it proved. After carving their way to the finals, Penarol came up against the Brazilians. After a controversy dominated two legged final, the reigning champions were dethroned courtesy of a brace from..Pele . Lula’s men retained the Campeonato Serie A and the Taca Brasil to complete the first treble ever.
David Goldblatt in his work “The ball is round” recalls an interesting anecdote from the second leg of the final :
‘Still on the pitch when he woke up forty minutes later he decided to abandon the game only to be persuaded by the Brazilians to let play continue. Santos equalised in the final moments of the restarted game, but simultaneously one of the linesmen was knocked out by another projectile. Robles disallowed the goal and abandoned the match – which had now lasted over three hours – and declared the result 3-2 to Penarol.”
Consequently, it was decided by the CONMEBOL that only the first 51 minutes of the game be recognized and with the aggregate scored tied at 4-4, there was to be a play-off to decide the winner of the trophy. Penarol failed to turn up on the day and were blown away by a rampant Santos who won their first of three continental titles.
A still from the memorable play-off : Pele celebrates his goal.
There was no stopping the Santos machine as they then stomped past an Eusebio led Benfica in the Intercontinental cup. Wearing the iconic #10, Pele weaved rings of magic around the Portugese giants, scoring a special hat-trick as Santos lifted the cup in style, winning 5-2 on the night. Santos would go on to retain their Copa Libertadores and then move a step further by defeating Nerro Rocco’s Milan to establish themselves as the team of the 60’s, notwithstanding the relativity of competition in South America.
To say that Santos were a one-man team would not really be a gross mis-statement but one can simply not ignore the importance of the rest of the team in ensuring Santos’ success on an industrial scale. Lula, the first team coach was a forward thinking person who ensured his teams played football the right way, entertaining the crowds who payed their precious income to watch their team play. He did not hesitate in promoting youth to the first time, with age being a mere figure for him. The likes of Zito, Jair, Mengalvio and Coutinho rose to prominence under Lula as they ably executed out their roles to perfection thereby providing the perfect platform for Pele to thrive upon.
The golden team of Santos was, needless to say built around the genius of Pele with the Brazilian being afforded a free role in attack. In support of him
were two widemen in Dorval and Pepe with Coutinho leading the line up-front. For majority of the time, Pele would drop deep to create pockets of space for Pepe to drift into to support Coutinho and would then surge forward to round off the move. As a goal-scorer, the #10 had no equal but it was the other aspects of his game that made him such a well rounded player.
Dr Carvalho, who had a major influence on the Brazilian’s early career recalls –
“Pele’s ball control is born within himself and his intelligence is far over average… On top of all that he has an extraordinary range of vision. He can see things at such angles that they would be out of view for a normal human being.”
On the right, Dorval provided the width in attack as he constantly hugged the touchline to provide a different dimension to Santos’ attacks. He constantly ran up and down the right wing, ably supporting his full-back and rendering positional balance to the setup. In central midfield, Zito and Mengalivo(both of whom were Santos academy graduates) held the fort with Zito providing the grit and Mengalivo the calm. The back four were set-up in a way that pretty much resembles modern rear-guards with two conventional overlapping fullbacks in Lima and Geraldinho and a stopper-sweeper central defense pairing of Calvet and Haroldo. Gilmar was more than an able custodian between the sticks.
Lula’s Santos were experts at mixing their game up – quite often Mengalivo would take route 1 in hoofing the ball upto Coutinho who would hold it up for Pele to skate past defenders and slot it in home. On other occasions, Pele would turn provider with his sublime vision in releasing either Coutinho or Pepe on goal. Dorval had fair share of assists down the right as he would often look for the head of Coutinho or Pele with some accurate crossing. Otherwise, it was all the show of the #10 – Pele.
Though there was to be little joy on the continental front post 1963, Santos won the Serie A in 1964 and 65, completing the quadruple of Serie A titles. Slowly but gradually, the team started to disintegrate with only being among the few survivors to lift the Serie A again in 1968. The iconic #10 left Santos in 1973 to move to the United States where he was a given a king’s welcome. Pele finished his career with 1285 goals in 1321 appearances and is touted by many as the greatest player to have ever played the game.
As the prominence of the golden team reached its saturation point, Santos embarked on a time in the din of mediocrity as there was to be no taste of success for the Piexe until the golden team of 2002 led by Robinho won the Serie A in the 2001-02 and 2003-04 season. The club won its first Copa Libertadores in 2011 after a wait of nearly 40 years as Neymar announced himself on the big stage with a series of mesmerizing performances during the course of the campaign. The trophies haven’t stopped with the Brazilian’s departure as Santos have already added the 2014 Serie A to their glittering cabinet of honours.
In a fitting tribute to the iconic group of players, the great team of 1962 were nicknamed as the Os Santasticos(The Santasticos.) Besides, the European media nicknamed them as “The Globetrotters” given their practice of visiting different parts of the world to take part in pre-season friendlies. Lula believed that the Santos machine would only become more efficient if it was exposed to different ideologies and that was the primary motive of taking his brain-child places.
Guardian’s Eric Todd wrote a fitting tribute for Pele’s Santos when they visited the shores of England to play Shieffield Wednesday at Hillsborough –
“When one considers some of the superlatives that are squandered on inside forwards in this country, the futility of trying to find new ones to describe Pele becomes all the more obvious.”
More than fifty years on from their day of glory, many of the components of the great Santos of 1962 have now faded into oblivion except Pele who still continues to be a special ambassador of the sport. The greatness of the team has been forever edged into the hall of fame of Brazilian football and its legacy continues to inspire numerous teams around the world in their strive for greatness. No doubt, Santos of 1962 will remain an immortal figure in the arch gallery of world football in its widest sense.