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Day 67: Santos

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With Santos hopeful Pierre da Silva, and mum, dad and sister Arianna.
Michael Palin - BrazilAll three of the training pitches are now in action. Some of the games are exercises as well. In one, in which they concentrate on positional play, the ball is never kicked at all but thrown from one player to the other. I ask Pierre whom he rates at the club. Neymar, his first choice, is not unexpected, but his second choice is a tiny boy who plays in the under 11s called Dodzinho or Dodo. He points him out to me, a boy with a Neymar haircut, his long shorts coming almost down to his ankles, making him look like a little old man. Dodo doesn't fight for the ball, but when it comes to him he weaves and lays it off with precocious ease. And when Pierre strips down to his yellow vest and white shorts and joins in a game, I can understand why his parents think it's all worthwhile. He's a tall, fast, intelligent player, a winger with an accurate, powerful left foot.

Edi Marcel is one of the under 17s fitness coaches, married to a girl from Manchester. He explains the Santos philosophy. All-round support from the club for players from the earliest age. Schooling, medical check-ups, social assistants to help out with family problems, psychiatrists to help with behavioural problems. And on the pitch, the days are gone when the staff consisted of a manager and a trainer beside him with a sponge and a bucket. Santos provide doctors at every game as well as masseurs and physiotherapists. Despite their extensive and comprehensive youth programme, Edi estimates that on average only two players from each age group will stand a chance of a first-team place. That's maybe ten out of 200.

I drive back into town and go with Pierre and Pilar and Sebastião to the hallowed ground on which he one day hopes to make his debut. Vila Belmiro is not an intimidating ground. It's an intimate 18,000-seater, fitting snugly into an attractive neighbourhood of low, neatly painted stucco houses. There are cafés and restaurants on the corner opposite the main entrance selling scarves and photos and vests, and the only sign of rampant commercialism is a big likeness of Neymar on a shaving ad. Inside, the black and white colours of Santos are repeated in the seat patterns and the tiling, but there's nothing grand about the place. Guido, the Brazilian youth team goalie, has come along with us so we can see Pierre take a few penalties. And then they roll the ball out to me, and all I can think of is that I can now say I've struck a penalty from the same spot as Pelé. Except that he scored. And so did Pierre.

Say farewell to Arianna, Pilar and Sebastião, who, for the next two years at least, have given up their life for their son. They are good people and I hope so much that I've been sharing the penalty spot not just with a ghost of the past, but with the spirit of the future. One thing's for sure: from now on I shall be following Santos and Sheffield United.
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Pierre displays the tall, striding control which marks him out as a star of the future.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 67: Santos
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Santos
  • Book page no: 284

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