Given Santos' success over the past two years, there has been no shortage of column inches covering their key performers – particularly those who have become, or who already were, Brazilian internationals. Usually found atop the bill are starlets Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso, two of Brazil's biggest hopes for victory on home soil at the 2014 FIFA World Cup™, while coming up close behind is former Manchester City man Elano, a regular for A Seleção at South Africa 2010.
Also in the mix is versatile youngster Danilo, a member of the Brazil side which won this year´s FIFA U-20 World Cup and who has now broken into Mano Menezes' senior squad. Nor must we forget Borges, leading scorer in the 2011 Brasileiro championship and recently capped by Menezes, while veteran left-back Leo has also donned the famous Canarinha jersey.
However, oddly enough, one of the most important cogs in the Santos engine room does not feature on that list of past and present internationals. That man is Arouca, with his omission odd because of just how integral he has been to Os Santistas' recent title wins, his impressive track record and the array of options provided by his midfield multi-tasking. Even so, the dynamic 25-year-old still prefers to talk about reaching the senior national squad as a “dream”, rather than anything more concrete.
“Look, I just focus on doing my job: training hard and playing well for Santos,” he told FIFA.com. “But I never lose sight of my dream of breaking into A Seleção, particularly because of the form I've been in this year and in previous seasons, as I've been winning titles and performing well.”
What is more, Arouca has pedigree at national-team level, having been part of the Brazil squad that won the FIFA U-17 World Cup Finland 2003 and finished third at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Netherlands 2005. “My dream (of playing for the seniors) is still alive and I´m going to go for it,” he added, with conviction.
At home across midfield
Marcos Arouca da Silva, to give him his full name, started out in the youth ranks of Rio de Janeiro outfit Fluminense as an attacking midfielder. Yet his enviable blend of skill, physical strength and lungpower soon led to him dropping back as one of the deep-lying midfield pair so popular in Brazilian football.
Equally at home harrying opposing attackers and shielding his backline as he is starting moves or bursting forward, these qualities helped see him voted among the best in his position in the 2005 Brasileiro – at just 19 years of age. Little has changed since, with Arouca offering the ability to both defend and attack that is a vital ingredient in successful teams.
However, for whatever reason, the player has not gained the recognition his performances have deserved. Less than willing to be drawn on why this might be the case, Arouca remained coy yet confident in his worth as the sort of Swiss-Army-knife midfielder beloved of modern-day coaches.
“Being able to play more than one role is something I've always been prepared to do, whichever club I was at. It´s definitely a plus point in my favour, as coaches know I can play in several midfield positions, and can defend as well as burst forward into attack,” said O Peixe's No5. “The position I've played most is as a deep-lying box-to-box midfielder, but I don't demand to play there. I can play as an out-and-out defensive midfielder too, depending on the opposition and the player alongside me.”
Santos' strong centre
Currently under experienced supremo Muricy Ramalho, the mastermind behind the club´s Libertadores triumph, Santos are preparing to bid for glory at December's FIFA Club World Cup in Japan. And the team's already strong midfield has been further boosted since continental success by the arrivals of Henrique and Ibson from Cruzeiro and Spartak Moscow respectively.
Coach Ramalho can now line up his charges in a host of differing formations should the situation require, ranging from a cautious approach to more adventurous tactics. “That's one of our biggest strengths: having such a flexible midfield,” said Arouca, whose skill on the ball when deployed in defensive midfield is crucial when Santos wish to play a more expansive game.
Whichever way Ramalho decides to set up in the centre of the park, Arouca is aware that conditions must be right for Santos' fenômenos Neymar and Ganso to strut their stuff. “Neymar is awesome. Despite being used to seeing what he can do, thanks to training with him every day and watching him practice his dribbles and invent new tricks, just when you think you've seen it all he'll surprise you with something different.
“Ganso is another class act, someone who's a cut above,” said Arouca as the interview drew to a close. “This year he's had a few injuries that disrupted his momentum, but he's the brains of our team and we're confident he'll be on form at the Club World Cup.”