Date: 16th March 2012 at 6:16pm
Written by:

Though favourite players are something I like to think I grew out of some years ago; occasionally a player comes along that steals your heart for some reason or another. Usually these reasons are trivial and often unfathomable. My favourite all time player will always be Anders Limpar. Not because I believe him to be the best Arsenal player I have ever seen; though he`s not a million miles away. But for a myriad of reasons, his mercurial streak, the fact that he was an artist in a team of foot soldiers. At the risk of sounding like a swooning college girl in some god-awful US Teen Drama, he played by his own rules.

Before he slunk into a sludge of moon faced indifference, I used to feel similarly about Arshavin. A shapeless artiste spraying mayhem in a game increasingly defined by tactical battle. The little Russian began as the luxury that Arsenal needed. Then the luxury we could afford. Then just a luxury. Until he finally became little more than an ornament. But with Arshavin now departed, a new playful imp has shuttled towards my malleable affections. I don`t think I can quite explain it, nor am I convinced it`s very healthy, but I can`t help falling in love with Andre Santos.

Santos fits snugly in the tradition of Brazilian full backs- or “laterals” as they are known in Brazil. It`s perhaps no surprise that Santos cut his teeth as a left winger. In 2003, at the age of just 20, he had to deal with the pressure of being labelled “The next Roberto Carlos” by Pele. In Brazil, full backs aren`t so much considered part of the defence as they are the first line of attack- Santos takes to this vision with his forays forward. But his runs are more sophisticated than people in England seem to appreciate. (See his goal at Stamford Bridge in October. He picked exactly the right time to race forward and exploit the space). His game is built largely on interception- which suits Arsenal`s aspirational pressing game of winning the ball high up the pitch. As you`d expect from a Brazilian, his control and touch is unyielding. Often seen seamlessly rolling his left foot over the ball deceptively.

He is rarely robbed of possession. Contrary to popular belief, he is no liability defensively either. Prior to his injury, he averaged more tackles and more interceptions than any other Arsenal player this season. I spend a fair bit of time playing left back myself, so perhaps it`s been a subconscious analysis that has caused me to appreciate Santos` skills. My girlfriend is Brazilian and had watched him at close quarters prior to joining us and hadn`t rated him highly at all, so I wasn`t expecting a great deal. We have both been pleasantly surprised. But the fact that I have a lot of time for him as a player isn`t the real reason I`ve taken to him.

Santos comes across as a genuinely warm hearted, pleasant individual. Ordinarily I wouldn`t put a great deal of stock in player personalities, but the way in which Santos plays the game suggests he extracts a real joy from what he is doing. At the reserve match on Wednesday, fans shouted his name from the East Terrace and he continuously looked up with a huge grin and waved. His twitter utterances seem to reveal a humble, yet fun loving character. It`s not widely known or appreciated that when Santos moved to Arsenal at a moment`s notice in August, his wife was seven and a half month`s pregnant. He had to live in a hotel without knowing a word of English, separated from his heavily pregnant wife whilst acclimatising to a new league.

The reason this isn`t widely known is because Santos never made a big deal of it. In a period when Arsenal fans were notably tetchy, many wrote him off after two or three games without full possession of those facts. But it was never presented as an excuse. Just another matter to overcome and overcome he did, balancing a transitional family life with a workplace upheaval with the minimum of fuss. He took English lessons, he moved his wife and young child to London, he trained hard and played well. Regardless of the sums of money one commands, that`s commendable. Just imagine for a moment that your boss calls you into his office on Tuesday, tells you you`re being relocated to Brazil next week, leaving behind a heavily pregnant partner to go and live in a hotel.

Just as he was really playing himself into some form and acclimatising, Santos was then injured very unfortunately. The timing was lousy for him and for the team with the perma crocked Gibbs on the sidelines. Again, Santos never complained. He acknowledged it as a challenge to overcome, continued to take English lessons, got himself fit ahead of schedule and smiled his way through an impressive performance in the reserves on Wednesday. There are other salt of the earth elements of Santos I have a strange affection for. His world war two pilot style side parting. His, ahem, “beefy” frame. The fact that his middle name is Clarindo! In his struggle to get to grips with the nuances of the English language, Santos infamously tweeted, “Great game today gays!” on his twitter feed back in October. It was an error that was endearing as it was amusing.

Even the fact that he wears number 11 and plays at full back has a certain madcap charm about it. He`s a character who hasn`t yet caught the imagination of the press in the same way someone like Balotelli has. As a result, Balotelli has been bled dry and turned into a caricature with the fascination and reportage of every mundane incident. Andre is very particular to Gooners. Santos appears to be one of football`s nice guys. A genuinely humble man, but a character to boot. Somebody that appreciates the position they find themselves in. He has a way of moving with the ball that I just find eminently watchable for reasons unknown to me. If I`m entirely honest, I think I want to give him a big hug. I hope that you don`t judge me too harshly for that. LD.

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