In football, saying goodbye to a star as they travel on the road to an international career is just part of the game. Cruzeiro, for example, bid goodbye to the then-promising Ronaldo in 1994, after he had been playing for the Minas Gerais-based team for just a year. In the latest round of transfers in July, two major Brazilian players packed their bags for Europe but to the delight of fans, it had been a long time coming.
Neymar and Paulinho, who for years have been difference-makers at Santos and Corinthians, respectively, bid farewell to their clubs only after winning the Confederations Cup for the Brazilian national team, taking home the gold and bronze ball trophies earned for being named the tournament’s best and third-best player, respectively. Spanish player Iniesta won the silver ball.
Neymar debuted at Santos in 2009, and at only age 17, he shone alongside fellow newcomer Paulo Henrique Ganso. Between dribbles, goals and victory dances, the striker led the team to victory in three Paulista Championships, the Brazilian Cup and the Libertadores Cup, which Santos hadn’t won, at the time, for 49 years.
He became the face of the team and a worldwide sensation – the target of money-bags proposals from abroad. The club managed to hold onto its major star, bucking the trend of Brazilian football quickly selling off its greatest talents. But after four years of turning down numerous proposals, Neymar finally left Santos to realise his dream and play alongside Lionel Messi at Barcelona.
Paulinho left Corinthians to play in the British Premier League, for Tottenham Hotspur, after three victorious years as a Timão midfielder. His name also went down in the club’s history books with the unprecedented Libertadores of America win, reaching the final unbeaten. He also participated in the successful campaigns of the 2011 Brazilian Championship, the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup, and the Paulista Championship of 2013.
Currently competing in the Brazilian Championship, these two São Paulo state teams are looking to restructure game strategies after losing key players. Santos should have more work, because it depended more on Neymar. The team was essentially ‘Neymar’s Santos’, while Corinthians, although relying greatly on Paulinho, was never a one-player-team; a full team effort was its main strength.
Despite this, Santos coach Claudinei Oliveira has already said that he does not fear for the future and believes in the new generation of meninos da Vila (Vila is the name of Santos’ stadium), with Gabriel Barbosa (‘Gabigol’) and Neilton – who is already being called ‘the new Neymar’. Both started in Santos’s youth ranks.
On the other hand, Corinthians seems to be more predictable without its midfielder, and commentator Walter Casagrande has said that without Paulinho, the team lacks the element of surprise, making it easy for its opponents to defend. Corinthians coach Tite still has well-known, experienced Renato Augusto and Pato in his arsenal, to bring an element of unpredictability to the field. In the meantime, fans with heavy hearts have something to hold on to: both Neymar and Paulinho have sworn to return one day.