Santos Futebol Clube, Santos, Peixe. The home to two world-renowned superstar players – one of whom was named “Athlete of the Century” and is widely regarded as the greatest footballer of all time – has several names, but how did the São Paulo based team come to be, and what have they been up to since then?
Based in Santos (obviously), São Paulo, Brazil, Santos Futebol Clube was founded on April 14th 1912.
Led by three sports enthusiasts from the municipality: Mário Ferraz de Campos, Raymundo Marques Francisco, and Argemiro de Souza Junior, their formation was a storied one. Clube Atlético Internacional and Sport Club Americano – founded in 1902 and 1903 respectively – were the two primary teams in Santos for eight years.
Unfortunately, Clube Atlético Internacional (who had not scored a goal during the 1908 season) faced crippling debts and dissolved in 1910. Sport Club Americano – the remaining team – found it difficult to participate in the Campeonato Paulista due to the Serra do Mar (a 1500 km system of mountain ranges and escarpments) separating them from the city of São Paulo.
Therefore they relocated, after which they went undefeated from 1911 to 1916, winning the state championship: The Campeonato Paulista(known as the Paulistão) twice, rewarding the decision to relocate.
Santos was left with no representatives, and our three sports enthusiasts were left to reassemble the pieces. In a meeting reportedly lasting fourteen hours, the participants cheered unanimously at the proposal of Santos Foot-Ball Club and thus the club was born. Their first game took place on June 23rd 1912, against a local opponent in Thereza Team, which Santos won 2-1.
In their first official game, they faced Santos Athletic Club on September 14 1912, during which Santos’ first official goal was scored. Their early form continued, winning the inaugural Campeonato Santista de Futebol. 6 wins in 6 games, 35 goals-for and 7 against, and the first trophy brought home for the club.
In the 10 years between 1917 and early-1927 Santos was often seen as a respectable team with talented players, but not one that could truly challenge for the Campeonato Paulista due to never finishing higher than fourth place.
In 1927, this view changed as Santos set the precedent for their club’s ethics even today – the discovery, creation and nurturing of talented young players.
The First Santos Son
Araken Patusca, son of the first president of Santos was the first of these discoveries.
Patusca was the first Santista (Santos player) to play in a World Cup game, and in the league led Santos to finish runner-up three years running in 1927, 1928 and 1929. Their 1927 season was prolific, with 100 goals scored in 16 games, leading the team to be dubbed O ataque dos 100 gols (The 100-goal attackers).
What followed was the president of Santos declaring publicly that Santos was officially a professional club. Through worth ethic mirrored in the club’s official motto Técnica e Disciplina (Technique and Discipline), the side heavily prepared for the upcoming Paulistão, playing 14 friendlies, winning 7, losing 4 and drawing 3.
As the season drew to a close, Santos faced Corinthians at the Estádio Parque São Jorge – which at the time was Corinthians’ home ground – and defeated them 2-0 thanks to goals from Raul and Patusca, winning their debut title on the last match-day of the season.
Following this, the team entered a 20-year dry spell being deprived of any silverware, being unable to clinch any victories in the league; though they lacked success, in the background the managerial staff of Santos were hard at work, and Santos was progressively scouting, acquiring and building a superteam to tear the league apart come the mid-1950s.
Despite this spell of mediocrity, they’d finally break their years of waiting for a second Paulistão, with 1956 proving to be perhaps the most important year in Santos’ history. A player of extraterrestrial talent would arrive at Santos on a plate, soon after winning a second Paulistão, as if it were a reward for their achievement.
There are barely 2 or 3 players that can be used in the same sentences as him, but he will forever be the first true football superstar…
This player’s name was Edson Arantes do Nascimento, if you haven’t heard of him, you’ll recognise him by his nickname…Pelé.
A King Amongst Men
It couldn’t have been any easier for them either, unlike many stories of great players having to fight to join a good team, or having a scout fortunately stumble upon a potential superstar, Pelé was simply presented to them, like a gift from the football gods.
At 15, Pelé was playing futsal for his side Baaru, impressing so much to the point his coach brought him to Santos for a trial stating he would be “the greatest football player in the world.
Sure enough, Pelé impressed, earning a contract with Santos and beginning what would be a career that would profoundly impact not just Santos, or Brazillian football, but the whole world.
After signing, his prophecy would be foretold to the world as he scored on his debut still aged just 15. Santos had a different beast on their hands, and naturally, things began to look up for the club again.
In 1958, a third state championship came, with a now 18-year-old Pelé playing alongside a strong core of Zito, Pagão, Formiga and Tite. If any Brazillian had any doubt over Pelé’s ability after the 1958 season it had been exorcised. During Santos’ run to a third Paulistão, Pelé casually scored 58 goals in 38 appearances.
As Santos and their dominance dawned, they became feared across the world. Routinely beating rivals by scores to the tune of 10-0 and 12-1, on a few occasions scoring double figures without Pelé in the team.
The next year came a further significant change for Santos and Brazil; the formation of the National competition – The Campeonato Brasileiro Série A.
Up until now, teams competed in their respective states, but the formation of a nationwide tournament that included the whole country was an exciting prospect.
Now, success wasn’t instant, Santos would lose in the final of the inaugural competition to Bahia, in a tie that required 3 games to decide. Then in 1960, they’d fail to qualify thanks to a close-fought title loss to Palmeiras, who would also go on to win the national cup, rubbing salt in the wounds.
Nevertheless, in 1961, Santos were back and hungrier than ever. This was apparent to an unfortunate América-RJ side that would concede 12 goals across their Semi-Final tie. Facing Bahia, the very side that bested them in the 1959 final, they’d leave no regrets out on the field, smashing them 6-1 in the second leg.+
By 1962 Santos came to England, in a long-awaited appearance. Their first match? Sheffield Wednesday. The Owls were mid-table in the old First Division at the time but would be exposed to Joga Bonito or ‘play beautifully’ before anyone else in England.
When Pelé and the crew sauntered into Sheffield there was an understandable buzz of excitement. A crowd of 50,000 saw the Brazilians win 4-2, the brilliant forward Coutinho stealing the show with a hat-trick whilst Pelé converted a penalty.
Santos took 8 out of 10 Paulistãos in the 60s, only losing out in 1963 and 66, with 63’s loss made far more palatable by a victory in the new South American Champions League, the Copa Libertadores. They had also won the year prior.
Even more impressive still was their 5 Brasileiro Série A trophies in a row, from 1961 to 65, they simply couldn’t be beat.
Last of all though, they’d be crowned the best club team in the world, winning the Intercontinental Cup, Beating both Eusebio’s Benfica and AC Milan in 1962 and 63.
As great as their success was, Santos couldn’t remain at the top forever. By 1970, Pelé was showing signs of declining, seemingly having given everything he had left at the World Cup.
Nothing Lasts Forever
In 1973 Santos won another Paulistão, with Pelé even finishing top scorer. But he’d only score 11 that year, making it a poor year by his high standards.
Despite boasting 6 Santos players in the 1970 World Cup-winning Brazil squad, including Pelé and Carlos Alberto, the team struggled to recapture their brilliance in the 60s.
By 1974, Pelé was almost 35 and had only managed 1 goal in 10 in the state league, with 9 in 17 coming in the national competition. He was duly sold to American side New York Cosmos, in a move that boosted football’s popularity massively in America, much like Lionel Messi’s transfer this year.
Players such as Meninos da Vila, Pita, Juary, Joao Paulo and Nilton Batata would help them to some success in the post-Pelé era came to an end but consistency was lacking. Following a 1978 Paulistão victory, the club would find themselves without any major silverware until 1984.
Santos, despite all of their prior success, had been hamstrung by poor financial decisions and various investments that sought to expand the club’s reach but ultimately ended up costing millions.
Their small successes in the 80s were largely thanks to enigmatic striker Serginho Chulapa, who played for Santos on and off throughout the 80s but was a standout player in the 83/84 season, scoring 34 in 36, and helping them to another Paulistão.
But things hadn’t truly turned around for Santos. The club wouldn’t find this success until the late ’90s winning 1998 the Copa CONMEBOL, essentially the UEFA Cup of South America.
It was a bit of a shock at the time, Santos had a decent league campaign, finishing 5th in the national league, which was by no means a failure, but to win the second biggest competition in the Southern Hemisphere was outside of many fan expectations in 98.
Following their Continental Cup victory, new chairman Marcelo Teixeira, emboldened by a sniff of success, struck while the iron was hot. Preparing Santos for domination in the 21st century, Santos would spend heavily as the new millennium dawned.
But following a big money spending spree Santos would completely collapse in form.
In an unprecedented drop in performance, Santos could only muster an 18th-place finish in 2000 and 15th in 2001.
It was not sustainable given the investment in players. Sure enough, in 2002 they’d recoup what they could on the big names, falling back on what had brought their success in the first place. The youth set-up.
Falling Back on Their Founding Principles
Calling up now well-respected names such as future Chelsea centre-back Alex, Robinho and cult hero, attacking-midfielder Diego, Santos would fall back on youth once again.
There was instant improvement. Santos finished a respectable 8th place in the national league with their young squad, just scraping into the playoffs on goal difference. Few gave them a chance, even after a 3-0 victory over a Sao Paulo side that featured a young Kaka and Luis Fabiano.
But, after a 3-1 aggregate win over Gremio, Santos were in the final, just one tie away from a first national championship since 1968. Facing a strong Corinthians side, they’d run out 5-2 victors on aggregate, but both matches were close fought, with Santos only putting the tie beyond doubt with two quick in the last few minutes of play.
2004 saw another National League trophy, this time winning the league by finishing first on 89 points after a rule change that saw the competition take on a more traditional league format.
Santos would soon have to rely on youth again as star players such as Robinho were sold. After a few poor replacements in the transfer market, Santos would have to once again rely on youth. After a torrid 2008 in which they narrowly avoided relegation, they dipped their fingers into the academy once more.
Of course, as it always seems to for Santos, it worked out, this time calling up a young Neymar and Ganso to the first team, both players quickly being touted as the next Brazillian superstars. It was as if the club had a factory line of wonderkids that could produce a footballing savant at any time.
Over the next 3 years, Santos won 3 Paulistãos in a row to bring forth a return to dominance in the massively competitive Sao Paulo area. But this was nothing compared to a famous 2011 Copa Libertadores victory, that ended a 48-year wait since the days of Pele.The last decade since then has seen a return to the familiar Santos pattern.
Intermittent success following the sale of star players, with state championship titles in 2015 and 2016. But since then Santos have hit another rough patch, failing to make the knockout round in the state championships 3 times since winning in 2016.
Things haven’t looked much better in the national league. They’ve been a mid-table side for the most part, except for two fruitless title challenges where they would finish runner-up both times in 2016 and 2019.
If the past is anything to go off of, I’d expect Santos to magically find another crop of superstars down their sofa cushions any day now…