Santos officially kicked off the celebrations leading towards their centenary, which is coming up on 14 April 2012, with the launch of the project titled ‘100 Anos – Meninos para Sempre’ on Wednesday at the club’s Vila Belmiro stadium. In attendance to mark the start of the celebrations were Pele, Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso, as well as futsal star Falcao, all of whom shared top billing and gave their views on the upcoming commemorative programme with the assembled press.
Santos took advantage of the event to confirm a heavyweight signing for 2012, in the shape of O Rei Pele, who was unveiled as the poster boy for O Peixe’s centenary year. “I’m here for good," he said. "I’ve already played for free for this club, because I love Santos. And I’m the one who should be grateful for that. Santos FC opened the door to the world for me,” added Pele, who was subsequently the subject of fulsome praise from the club’s president Luis Alvaro de Oliveira Ribeiro.
“Pele’s passionate about Santos,” said De Oliveira Ribeiro. “He helped us a lot and I saw that first-hand. It was only fair to sign him on a professional contract again. I do this to repay a debt of gratitude. O Rei made Santos start to dream and to show that O Peixe wasn’t a small fish in a tank but a big fish in the ocean. We’re now conquering again with these new young talents that are starting to emerge.”
Yet for this historic moment to come to pass, nearly two years of intense behind-the-scenes discussions were required. “Negotiations were pretty full-on,” said Santos’ executive marketing manager Armenio Neto. “Both Pele and his image are associated with a series of contracts, which is why we tried to smooth things along, given it was important for us to have him here. But when someone is passionate about your club, it’s easier to bring them into the fold.”
Aside from the centenary events, a campaign to entice more people to become Santos club members – the Sócio Rei initiative – is expected to be launched shortly. “The idea is to hit the figure of 100,000 members,” explained Neto. “We want to turn followers into club members. We’re going to launch it soon, in addition to the Multiplicação dos Peixes benefits scheme. Members will earn points through their dealings with the club which they can exchange for experiences. Being involved with the club will give them access to things that they won’t be able to find anywhere else,” he concluded.