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Day 67: Santos

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Housing blocks form an unglamorous back-drop to the Santos training ground.
Michael Palin - BrazilThe British brought something far more lasting to Brazil than the railways. They brought soccer. And Santos became one of the most famous soccer clubs in the world when, in the mid 1950s, they took on a promising fifteen-year-old named Edson Arantes do Nascimento, who under the less ponderous abbreviation Pelé became generally known as the greatest player in the history of the game. Despite tempting offers from Europe he continued wearing the black and white stripes of Santos FC until 1974, by which time he had scored 1,087 goals for the club in league and friendly games. It was Pelé who later talent-spotted another great Santos legend, Robson de Souza, aka Robinho, who led them to the Brazilian championship title before moving on to Real Madrid, Manchester City and AC Milan. Their current home-grown discovery, Neymar, is considered one of the hottest prospects in soccer. In 2011, he was voted South American Footballer of the Year. He was nineteen years old.

This morning, with the storm past and a hot, humid day developing in downtown Santos, we make our way to the training ground to see how this comparatively small club, with a stadium capacity of less than 20,000, keeps turning out such fine players. The Centro de Treinamento is up towards the mountains, with a road and a railway on one side and a favela on the other. Beyond the wire fencing, a huge decomposing globe and other remains of Carnival floats are piled up. There is nothing very special about the training ground, no stands or flags or anything flashy. Every now and then one of the Santos buses, in black and white club livery, pulls in through the gates with another squad of young hopefuls aboard.

One of these is Pierre da Silva, a rangy thirteen-year-old whom everyone rates highly. This morning he's here with his mother, father and kid sister Arianna, a bright and busy little force of nature whose mother describes her as an earthquake. Like adolescent teenagers everywhere, Pierre seems a little shy in the presence of the family, eyes down and shifting uneasily from one foot to the other. His parents are fiercely supportive. They believe in him so much that they have reordered their lives around his future. His father Sebastião, who once harboured ambitions to be a professional himself, has stayed on in New York, where Pierre was brought up, whilst his mother Pilar, who's Peruvian, has moved to Santos to be with her son during his training. Sebastião, a Brazilian who speaks English with a pronounced Bronx accent, has rented out most of the family home in New York and lives down in the basement. The hardest sacrifice of all is living apart, but Pilar is unrepentant.

'I'm going to make it here,' she says fiercely.

But she knows that it's Pierre who is going to have to make it. And it'll be another two years before they know if he will be one of the very lucky few to be offered a contract. The club pay Pierre 450 reais (£160) a week, which helps. He trains from seven o'clock every morning and goes to school in the afternoon.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 67: Santos
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Santos
  • Book page no: 282

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  • Sport and Leisure
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