John Guillem looks back on one Andre Santos’ time in England…
‘Perhaps I know best why it is man alone who laughs; he alone suffers so deeply that he had to invent laughter.’
― Friedrich Nietzsche, Der Wille zur Macht
There are certain sad moments in our lives where the congenial veneer of our world peels back a little, revealing a brief, harrowing glimpse of limitation. All too often it is a realisation of transience or mortality: the moment when you can see white hairs on your mother’s head (or is it just that she can’t be bothered to dye anymore?), when your old form teacher retires, when the first creaks in the beloved sports pro’s game emerge.
In football, we tend not to encounter such moments of bathos, as everything is slathered with a thick layer of drama and hyperbole. Things are always one way or another, often both at the same time or interchanging so rapidly as to create a resonance effect: grey areas are scarce. Surprises are always hugely surprising or something we knew all along … so it’s surprising that I was surprised in just that way I mentioned before (the one about death and all that – that is, an unsurprising but nonetheless very much a surprise surprise) some eleven months ago, with a mildly but not hugely surprising individual at the centre of it all: Andre Santos.
The news in question was just a scrap of transfer gossip (arising, as they tend to, in a manner which is entirely logical if you work back to first principles, and as such is likely to have been made up by some journo, and unlikely to ever happen): given Nacho Monreal’s signing for Arsenal, and the fact that the Turkish transfer window was still open (he played there before, you know!), inevitably Andre would be moving out sharpish, Kieran Gibb’s six week plus injury notwithstanding.
Leaving that piece of bollocks aside for a moment, the simple realisation which accompanied it was that his days were very clearly numbered at Arsenal. In many ways, this was already pretty obvious (given that he plays like a horny bumblebee, only lacking much sting), but the gossip-giblet shifted my relationship to it from the cognitive realm to the emotional one – I realised that old uncle Andre wouldn’t be in the team again come summerfall, whether he would spend years on loan like Denilson or does us a favour and bugger off the wage bill (which – thankfully I suppose– is what did happen). He is, to return to the life and death bit, a gonner now, rather than a Gooner (if you’ll excuse the shitty pun). And now, indeed, he is gone.
Where does that leave us then, and, more importantly, where does it leave poor Andre? Brazilians have a mixed record in the Premier League, but in a sense he was barely here at all (aside from being fat. In that sense he very much was here). He hardly played last season, and when he did, it was essentially a rehash of the worst parts of his debut season, about which the less said the better really. By most peoples’ judgements you’d have to call him a failure, but I’m a lot more affectionate for him than some other Arsenal failures (including Chamakh, just so you don’t think I’m only thinking of the ones like Squillaci who were always shit).
A mate of mine informed me that I’m the only Arsenal fan who actually likes Santos, which might have a kernel of truth in it … but really the reason that I like him is so simple and obvious that I’m amazed no one else finds it that way: he’s really cute and funny. If you’ve seen this video of him eating fish and chips, you’ll hopefully see where I’m coming from, though it’s clear enough.
Arseblogger calls him ‘the cuddly maverick’, and he’s certainly very cuddly. Looks like a dad, dresses like a dad, is a dad, really likes fish and chips (or perhaps food in general, his stare of longing when the presenter takes the plate away from him to show the camera is priceless. He’s cuddly because he’s plump, too…), plays like a madman, always smiles, tweets like an adorable old age pensioner (or perhaps a twelve year old) … Heck, I smiled when he swapped shirts with Robin van Persie, simply because of how clueless an act it was: clearly motivated by good nature without any regard for personal PR, which, when you think about it, is refreshing.
However, he did attract a lot of opprobrium from fans, and it’d be foolish to overlook why that was. Until recently there has been (and, to be honest, could still be, depending what happens over the next few months) a rather unhealthy scapegoating culture at Arsenal which began when Fabregas left (well, before then really – since we started not winning trophies), to which Santos fell victim. But he was also a much more deserving recipient of excessive bile and hatred than the likes of Ramsey (before he became the welsh Jesus), largely because he really did put in some abominable performances for the side, particularly in his second – and last – season.
Coming in as part of that high grade panic buy on deadline day 2011 (Arsene gropes for the loo roll and picks up Park Chu-Young), Santos was neither an unmitigated failure nor an immediate hit like Arteta, rather starting somewhat haphazardly before acclimatising (much as you’d expect of a defender coming in from a foreign league. Like Mertesacker. Or Koscielny. Just in case anyone has been heeding the words of idiotic Engerlandish sports journos).
I think the time when the fanbase felt his arrival was the second half of the Chelsea game at Stamford Bridge (the one where Terry bowed before God), when we seemed to be confronted with an entirely different animal to the tubby sloth of earlier matches. He had the same oddly surgical stab-tackle (which requires quite a lot of technique), but otherwise was almost unrecognisable: speedy, evincing hustle, powerful going forward, not quite so desperately out of position.
He played excellently and kept it up as Arsenal went on the first of their two strong runs of form that season. The system we were playing seemed to suit his strengths well, though it certainly wasn’t one with out-and-out wingbacks (which is, after all, what he actually is), and all was going pretty swimmingly until Arsene rather foolishly packed him on a flight to Greece to play in a pointless game, in which we not only lost the game but also lost our left back for several months … and this back when Kieran Gibbs still seemed to be made of glass.
After that, things weren’t really the same again. Arsenal went on a dreadful run of form, the team exposed harshly by a complete lack of full backs for a month or so, and then by the time he recovered Gibbs was thriving in the side. What’s more, the way in which Arsenal played had changed during that second strong run they went on in the 11-12 season: unlike the first run (in which Ramsey, Santos and Gervinho were key performers) in which the side played on the break more and the team balance was very much tilted towards the forwards, a more composed and possession based style (centred on midfield play through Rosicky, Song and Arteta) was in place.
This actually suited Gibbs a lot more than Santos; whilst Gibbs is a more classic attacking fullback who loves to get forward on the overlap, Santos prefers to come inside and dribble, shoot or pass, which for a fullback in England constitutes fairly eccentric preferences. He would make some crucial contributions before the season was through – coming off the bench some games to shore up the left side by playing in front of Gibbs, and most notably scoring the equaliser in the crucial 3-2 victory over West Brom at the end of the season – but it just wasn’t really the same again: Andre didn’t really ‘fit’ anymore, and wouldn’t ever again.
Sadly, the discovery of his hilarious nature (the explosion of his Twitter use whilst injured left us with some cracking 140-characterers) and status as the New Eboue of the squad was insufficient for fans to overlook their blood pressure surging whenever Santos played in defense (though, funnily enough, it was generally a comfort to see him at left wing). I do feel that the highly neurotic and tension-charged atmosphere surrounding Arsenal those days – which thankfully shows signs of abating – hardly helped either.
It was similar with the case of Eboue, where the joke grew old in his last season (that penalty he conceded in the twenty-seventh or whatever it was minute of injury time against Liverpool springs to mind), as the margins at the club were just too fine: the squad was too weak, and the letdowns too frequent, for fans to be able to laugh at what was going on. And, in the end, that’s sort of what I feel Santos’ spiritual purpose/fate was for Arsenal.
I have a mental image – which I rather like – of a myriad-eyed telepathic robot (or some such) appearing before Arsene in a dream, and informing him that the purchasing of Santos (along with Eboue before him I dare say) was essential to … something. And I think that something was probably the nerves and humours of the Arsenal fans, torn every which way by the operatic hysteria of the media, as well as by the strain of seeing the same stupid defensive errors and profligate finishing time and time again.
What I like (like like like) to believe is that Santos was sent to show us how to laugh at ourselves, to give us some joy back from that utter cow that was and still often is supporting Arsenal (a real #firstworldproblem, no?). Of course, he failed, became a sacrificial goat on the pyre of our pique, and is now gone. No matter – he still grins and smiles and does stupid shit and just might do something amazing (in attack, that is) for whomever, wherever, and maybe he will come back one day (he certainly won’t).
He fell for our sins, but he needn’t care: there be a lot of offside traps to wreck out there, a whole lot of fish and chips to eat (and he’s still at large on twitter, after all). It did make me a trifle sad to hear his response to being farmed out on loan: despite his making a go of being very decent about it and showing some optimism, it was clear that he wasn’t going to come back. At least Arsene gave him a hug.
And now that he’s gone, what will we do? I considered the option of having someone else (Stewart Downing?) as the new joke full back on the club … but the English are such humourless sods anyway that I think another cute, innocent, hilarious troll angel like Santos (or Eboue before him) would be wasted on us poor sinners. Probably.