It is time for a bold prediction. It is time for a very bold prediction, in fact, especially given that the 2016 Brazilian domestic season is yet to conclude: Santos has everything in place to fight for domestic and continental glory in 2017.
The club have laid solid foundations this season and, with Copa Libertadores qualification sealed, O Alvinegro should kick on next season and aim high. They currently possess a squad with sufficient quality and depth to do just that.
In Dorival Júnior, Santos has a coach who is not only pragmatic enough to succeed in Brazilian football, but who has also taken the time to modernise his approach by studying Pep Guardiola’s training methods. Along with Tite and Roger Machado, the Araraquara native is one of the most forward-thinking coaches in Brazil.
One thing Santos must be wary of is not making the same mistakes as they did after Neymar’s departure. They spent a lot of money, which they arguably did not have and landed themselves in some incredulous debacles such as that of Leandro Damião.
In saying that however, the signs are positive and O Peixe appear to be making some very smart transfer market moves. The experienced Alex’s return may prove to be a masterstroke, especially given the uncertainty surrounding the fitness of Gustavo Henrique and Luiz Felipe.
Vladimir Hernandez is set to join from Junior Barranquilla and will sign a five-year deal in January. The 27-year-old winger will add further depth to an already vast array of attacking options and should compete for a starting berth alongside compatriot Jonathan Copete, who arrived from Atlético Nacional during the summer.
Interestingly, Santos are the one and only Brasileirão side set to finish the season with the same coach who they began with. It is refreshing to see that the Vila Belmiro side appear to have a real project in place and seem willing to sign players who suit Dorival Júnior’s preferred characteristics and 4-2-3-1 formation. Their analysis and statistics department are, by all accounts, working tirelessly to prepare a competitive team ahead of next season where they will compete in the Paulistão, Copa Libertadores, Brasileirão and Copa do Brasil. The coach has in fact been sounded out by no less than five league rivals this season alone, namely: Corinthians, Grêmio, São Paulo, Cruzeiro and Internacional.
As ever, one of Santos’ most prevalent issues this winter will be keeping hold of their best players. The likes of Lucas Lima, Zeca and Vitor Bueno are sure to attract further interest from European and, dare I say, Chinese clubs when the transfer window opens. Thiago Maia is another whose future is subject to much speculation, with Chelsea reportedly waiting in the wings to make a bid. PSG have also been linked with a €20m move for the Olympic gold medal winner.
Should the afore-mentioned Zeca depart, reports suggest that Santos already have a ready-made replacement lined up in the shape of Atlético-GO full back Matheus Ribeiro. Meanwhile, Fluminense central defender Gum is said to have been specifically requested by the coach and a move could well be facilitated. Controversially, the club has also been linked with an ambitious move to re-sign Robinho, who is currently contracted to Atlético-MG until the end of 2017. Should they be successful, Robinho would be set for a fourth stint at the Vila Belmiro.
Encouragingly, despite the mounting speculation linking Zeca with a move abroad, the 22-year-old has put pen to paper on a new contract. This binds him to Santos until December 2020. Whilst the odds on the Paranavaí native remaining in Brazil until then are astronomical, the deal will give the club greater leeway in negotiating a fair price for one of their stars. No doubt they will hope to do so with a few more prized assets.
Venezuelan midfielder Alejandro Guerra is another name being targeted by the Santos hierarchy and is viewed as a potential marquee addition to the squad. However, state rivals Palmeiras intend to strengthen their squad this off-season as they strive to (probably) defend their Brasileirão crown and are also interested in the 31-year-old.
Furthermore, club president Modesto Roma Júnior has met with his São Paulo counterpart Leco to discuss the future of various players from both clubs. Lucão was one of the names discussed – despite his promise the 20-year-old has never managed to nail down a place in the Morumbi side’s starting eleven. Dorival Júnior is said to be a keen admirer of the defender. Michel Bastos is also on Santos’ radar; however, his wages could prove to be prohibitive. On the other hand, O Tricolor could demand veteran striker Ricardo Oliveira in exchange and it remains unclear whether or not Santos are willing to let their top scorer depart.
Make no mistake, these are exciting times for Santos. They currently boast the nucleus of a squad capable of competing for titles. With a few calculated additions, Dorival Júnior’s side could conceivably push the likes of Palmeiras and Flamengo even closer than this season. Time will tell whether the club can keep their current stars in order to mount another glorious season in a história do Peixe.