By Leo Linden
With the end of the European season upon us (bar the Nordic leagues), we will shift our focus for the time being towards other prominent clubs around the world in this space over the next few months. Drawing inspiration from the Copa America, we will begin our worldwide journey in South America.
Santos FC is one of Brazil’s most popular and successful clubs historically. Formed 103 years ago, Santos was created after other clubs in the region left or dissolved, leaving the city of Santos devoid of a team. But Santos FC stepped in to fill the absence, and they became a power.
However, there was no national competition in Brazil until 1959, so Santos had to spend their early years competing in the Campeonato Paulista, a regional competition for the state of Sao Paulo. The club put up decent challenges in its first few decades, but didn’t break through to the winner’s circle until 1935. It was a major triumph for the club, but they could only repeat the feat just once more, in 1958, before the Taca de Brazil, a nationwide tournament, was implemented.
The Paulista still exists and is played for today, and Santos has won the third most titles all time, including this year’s. But the countrywide competitions have become far more important.
However, the 1958 victory was critical nonetheless, as the Taca de Brazil began as an annual extra competition for the state champions. Santos would have to face the best Brazil had to offer, but Sao Paulo had the highest quality football in Brazil.
In the inaugural year of the competition, Santos — as champions of the strongest division — entered the competition in the semifinals, but lost in the final to Bahia in a third game tie-breaker. While the loss was heartbreaking, even worse was finishing second in the league and failing to qualify for the next edition.
But the club rebounded quickly, and Santos entered its golden era. They won three straight Paulista championships in 1960-62 and won an expanded Taca de Brazil an unprecedented five times in a row between 1961-65. The team was led by many people’s choice for the greatest player of all time, Pele, who combined with a host of talented Brazilians to produce a deadly lineup.
The domestic success was staggering, but Santos truly confirmed their place as one of the greatest squads of all time with by taking home the Copa
Libertadores (South America’s Champions League)
Quickly, Santos’ success by far surpassed any other team in South America. They added their sixth domestic title in 1968 before the Serie A was formed in 1971.
Unlike the first time a national completion was formed, this time, the league was not so kind to Santos, who fell off the map completely. After a few quality campaigns early resulting in as high as a third-place finish, Santos fell into terrible debt that threatened the club’s existence.
But even at the worst of times, Santos was able to find a way to avoid relegation to the Serie B, and to this day still holds the record for not having been relegated along with four other teams.
After recovering from the debt, Santos hit a major uptick, capturing Serie A titles in 2002 and 2004. The titles give Santos eight all time, tied for most in Brazilian history with Palmeiras, another Sao Paulo based side. The club looked primed to return to dominance, but since the 2004 title, they have been declining domestically. It seemed like their failures would stop when wonder child Neymar came up through the ranks of the youth academy to the first squad in 2009. The club rose from 15th to 8th in just two seasons, and also returned to South American glory, but they couldn't capture the elusive league title.
In 2011 though, Santos rode their emerging star to a third Copa Libertadores title despite only qualifying for the tournament by winning the Copa do Brazil. It was another famous title for one of the best sides in one of the richest footballing nations, but Santos have been nothing better than average since.
The last three seasons have ended in disappointing mid-table finishes for the Southern Brazilian side, and this year, a poor start has resulted in seven points in as many games, leaving some wondering if Santos is teetering on a dangerous path. Furthermore, the club seems to have run back into financial issues causing, them to loan out their most expensive purchase of all time, striker Leandro Damiao.
It’s still too early to tell this year, but Santos are struggling, and their recent performances indicate that they are falling behind their competitors. The lurking monetary problems are no joke either, as