Back in 2005, not far from the ruins of the Incan Empire's most famous city, Macchu Picchu, a 16 year-old boy smiled, holding a shining trophy high above his head.
The boy, Giovani dos Santos, had just captained Mexico's U-17 squad to its first World Cup championship in any category, turning in a stellar performance that helped him obtain the tournament's Bronze Ball award.
With FC Barcelona's famed youth academy handling dos Santos' development, it seemed like the sky was the limit.
A favorite of Frank Rijkaard, dos Santos debuted with Barcelona's first team in September of 2007. Despite receiving the odd start in the League, dos Santos' activity was mainly limited to substitute appearances and playing in tournaments considered ‘less important’ such as the Copa Del Rey.
As Barcelona’s disastrous title challenge finally collapsed, Giovani was given more playing time, and he rewarded Rijkaard's trust with a hat-trick in the last game of the season, which also turned out to be Rijkaard’s final game as Barcelona manager.
New Barcelona manager Josep Guardiola saw dos Santos as part of Rijkaard's old regime which ended in locker room turmoil. Guardiola's fellow Spaniard, Juande Ramos, pursued the Mexican throughout the summer of 2008. Six million Euros later, dos Santos was a Spurs player.
The summer he was transferred, he had been widely recognised as one of the top talents in world soccer. He never quite broke into the Spurs first team, though, finding himself limited to a handful of appearances, even if an encouraging loan spell in the spring of 2009 at Ipswich Town provided some hope.
The 2009-10 season proved no better for dos Santos, and even a loan switch in the second half of the season to Galatasaray, where he played under his former Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard, could not jump-start his career, highlighted by his failure to score once whilst on loan at the Turkish giants.
When he returned to London, he found his commitment questioned by Harry Redknapp and his attitude widely panned following his public questioning of Mexico manager Javier Aguirre’s decision to leave his brother, Jonathan, out of Mexico’s 2010 World Cup squad.
Despite a relatively promising loan spell at Racing Santander in the first half of 2011, dos Santos now finds himself looking at the possibility of sitting on the substitutes bench for the rest of the season, and then the likelihood of joining a sixth club with just under five years of professional soccer under his belt.
To be fair to the Mexican, he’s put in some good performances in his limited time, granted, against opposition such as League Two outfit Cheltenham Town and Ireland’s Shamrock Rovers. But between his limited time with Spurs, his showings with the national team and his time in Spain, it is obvious he has the talent to compete at the top level.
However, the bottom line is that he needs playing time and to go somewhere where he can thrive to fulfill his promise. He certainly has the talent to remain in Europe. The question is, would a move to another Premier League side benefit him?
Perhaps. He would certainly get more playing time with an outfit such as Bolton or Wigan, where it is rumored he might spend the rest of the season.
On the other hand, is it possible his future is better-served by a move abroad, back to Spain? After all, his two best spells – his initial season with Barcelona and his stint with Racing Santander in 2011 – came in La Liga, where his flair and technical ability would thrive, possibly more so than in England.
He will need to work much harder to demonstrate he can still star for a club team and free himself of the negative influences that have been hampering his career, be they the nightlife or the people he surrounds himself with.
Giovani dos Santos may not turn out to be the superstar that many predicted he would be after a breakout performance at the U17 World Cup back in 2005. It would be a crying shame if he didn’t at least give 100% in an attempt to fulfill the potential that could see the reinvention of a global star waiting in the wings. If there’s a possibility he could do this, he can avoid the predictions of a player who simply didn’t make the most of his ability. Unfortunately for dos Santos, these predictions have started trickling in as he moves from club to club.
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