Number 30: Giovani Dos Santos
Position: Attacking Midfielder
Club Team: Tottenham Hotspur FC, English Premier League
American Based Athletic “Soulmate”: John Wall, PG, University of Kentucky
Six months ago, there were legitimate questions as to whether Mexico would have any players in this list. Indeed, it is hard to be in a “32 Players to Watch” list if you play for a side that isn’t invited to the World Cup Finals. Enter Javier Aguirre, who saved the Mexican qualifying campaign after replacing Hugo Sanchez, but there is more to the story of El Tri’s brilliant run of form in the latter part of 2009. In fact, El Tri’s qualification can largely be attributed to the emergence of Mexican born Dos Santos Ramirez Giovani, or simply, Gio Dos Santos.
As the calendar edges slowly towards the opening match of the 2010 World Cup, featuring host South Africa and Mexico, there is an undercurrent of confidence in the Mexican camp, despite a very difficult draw that finds El Tri in a group with host South Africa, perennial power France and tough South American side Uruguay. Much of this confidence can be attributed to Gio Dos Santos, who burst onto the scene four years ago at the U-17 World Cup, where he led a Mexican side that shocked the world by defeating Brazil 3-0 to win the competition.
Dos Santos, a product of world champion Barca’s “farm system”, found himself making his Barca debut, substituting for none other than Thierry Henry, two years later. Yet all has not been perfect for Dos Santos. His impatience with Barca’s development of him resulted in the talented Mexican being cut loose in the summer of 2008, when Barca transferred the disgruntled midfielder to Tottenham Hotspur. Dos Santos hoped it would result in immediate playing time, and again was disappointed, as he was caught in a crowded and immensely talented Spurs midfield behind players such as Aaron Lennon, Tom Huddlestone and Honduras star Wilson Palacios. He was sent off to Championship side Ipswich Town, where his tremendous play not only warmed him to the hearts of English fans, but also allowed him to return to Tottenham for the 2009-10 campaign. While he still rarely sees the field, he has kept his fine form with the Mexican national team, and it is safe to say his play will be absolutely critical to the fate of El Tri at the 2010 World Cup.
Americans became familiar with Dos Santos during the 2009 Gold Cup, where he won Most Valuable Player honors and made a name in Mexico after pulverizing the American defense in the final, pacing El Tri to a dominant 5-nil victory. His tremendous pace and skill with both his left and right foot, along with his explosiveness in the box area, make him extremely difficult to mark, as the video below demonstrates.
In fact, his talent and potential are so great that none other than Thierry Henry had this to say in 2008 (Before his international emergence, unbelievably!!) about the upside of the 20 year old midfielder:
“”He has speed and can change the course of a game with his genius. He can in two, three or four years be one of the best players in the world if he wants.” – Thierry Henry
Given this level of expectation, the easiest analogy to American sports comes from the ESPN MAGAZINE “Next List”. Dos Santos is a soccer version of ESPN NEXT # 3’s John Wall, the dazzling young point guard at the University of Kentucky, who is already drawing comparisons, albeit cautious ones, to NBA Stars Lebron James, Deron Williams and Chris Paul. The similarities between Coach John Calipari’s young point guard and Dos Santos couldn’t be more apropos. A few are highlighted below, in a short “checklist.”
– Explosion—both have it—Dos Santos in the box area and Wall with the dribble drive.
– Flash and Pizaaz—the video above demonstrates Dos Santos ability to change the game quickly with flashy, mind-boggling goals. Wall is notorious for his ability to drive the basketball, make spin-moves, crossover dribbles and behind the back passes look simple, and of course deliver the highlight reel slam dunk— just check out the dunk on Jerry Stackhouse below.
– Finally—expectation. Wall has been dubbed the savior of none other than Kentucky basketball, one of the most storied programs in the sport of college basketball. Dos Santos, well—he’s the savior of Mexican futbol—the best of what the Mexican media has dubbed its “Golden Generation”, a crop of players that will lead a country that truly believes it is a giant in its region and can be in the world to the pinnacle.
Like Wall, who was once benched in an AAU game for refusing to enter a game “just to dribble and run out the clock”, Dos Santos has had issues dealing with the weight of expectations. But if 2009 is any indication, Dos Santos is likely “NEXT”, and the World Cup will prove it.