Ganso Shows Why He’s So Fun To Watch With Vintage Display Against Granada

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Paulo Henrique Ganso started on Friday night for Sevilla, in their La Liga match against Granada, and while that might seem like an unremarkable piece of information, the fact that this was the Brazilian’s first appearance in the league this year makes it less so. Ganso actually hadn’t played in La Liga since last November, so when Sevilla manager Jorge Sampaoli brought him in from the cold, it was nice to see the mercurial playmaker back.

He seemed to think so too, with his enthusiasm for a return to football so strong that it only took him four minutes to make his way onto the scoresheet. The finish itself was pretty basic, nothing more than a tidy strike from close range, but the build-up to it was something else. In a lot of ways, the manner in which Ganso flicked the ball over the top of a nearby defender before clipping a pass, on the half-volley, into the path of an onrushing Stefan Jovetic highlighted the things that make him such an interesting figure. The fact that the now 27-year-old followed up with a run into the box to score from Jovetic’s return pass felt almost secondary, what was most important was that technical wizardry in the lead-up.

After all, Ganso has always been known for his playmaking abilities. He has always had that appearance of calm in possession, the kind of composure that allows him to receive the ball, face towards goal and assess his options without looking hurried. It’s from there that he regularly does his best work, fizzing through balls in behind the opposition defence with a simple whip of his left foot, usually after floating into a pocket of space between the lines. There is a kind of economy and efficiency to the way Ganso goes about his business, and while that gives him a kind of languid elegance on the pitch, it’s also what allows him to become a target when his team loses.

That’s because his slow-paced movement often carries over into the defensive phase of the game, and when he’s not hitting killer balls with a great degree of frequency, the fact that he just pauses for a moment before, almost begrudgingly, starting to track back becomes a source of frustration for those who watch him. He is, in a sense, an old-school luxury player, the kind of South American trequartista whose defensive shortcomings need to be made up for by those around him.

The problem for Ganso is that this type of player is a dying breed, and while that’s probably a big part of the reason why the gangly No. 10 doesn’t often find himself in Sampaoli’s side, it’s also something that makes him extremely watchable. Ganso may not defend with the intensity of someone like Chelsea’s Oscar, the archetypal modern-day playmaker who darts around with the same tenacity in defence as he does in attack, but the Sevilla man’s antiquated game is nonetheless a thing of beauty.

Against Granada, for example, he played expertly. He added a second goal just after half-time, which, in truth, pretty closely mirrored his first. He played a pass in the lead-up, although nothing quite as elaborate as his ball over the top for Jovetic just prior to his opener, and then continued his run forward. The approach to this dart into the area was typically Ganso-esque, as he took a couple of tentative steps initially before sensing the opportunity and breaking into something resembling a sprint. He soon latched onto Pablo Sarabia’s low cross to tap-in from close range, claiming a brace in the process.

Putting aside his goalscoring prowess on the night, Ganso produced plenty of high-quality moments. He completed just a tick under the 89% of his passes, and even though his numbers only show one key pass, there was another near-miss that didn’t make its way onto the stat-sheet. Here, the former Santos prodigy received a forward ball in between the lines, but under such pressure that he had two Granada markers circling. He had to be quick, and even if he didn’t look it, he was. He settled quickly on the ball after a neat first-touch, and just as he came under heavy pressure, he played a slicing pass in between two defenders to tee-up Jovetic. The Montenegrin clipped the ball into the back of the net but, perhaps somewhat dubiously, found himself ruled offside.

In some ways, however, it seems kind of fitting that one of Ganso’s brightest moments had no tangible impact on the match statistics. He is an enigma, and one whose best work isn’t readily summed up by the numbers. In contrast, he’s just a lot of fun to watch. He drifts in and out of pockets without ever really looking like there’s a lot of purpose to his movement, and his tight dribbling and sharp passing are so elegant that, at least for the neutral, it’s simply enough just to observe them even if they don’t achieve anything substantial. Against Granada, Ganso even managed to make five tackles without truly giving the impression of commitment on the defensive end, but regardless of appearances, that figure should hopefully be enough to convince Sampaoli to give him more time on the pitch.

After all, one league start in five months simply isn’t enough, not only for fans of Ganso but also, more broadly, for fans of the old-school playmaker. Sampaoli would probably argue, in very sensible, pragmatic terms, that he has other options in his squad who offer more in the way of all-round capability, and he most certainly does. That’s in pragmatic terms, though, and fans aren’t always drawn to what’s practical.

Instead, they’re often drawn to players like Ganso, and now that he’s banging in the goals and therefore bringing some end-product to the table, that should at least ensure some more minutes in the coming rounds. This is because coaches are drawn to form, and even if Ganso’s recent sample-size of top-flight football isn’t a big one, it’s a good one.

Sampaoli should run with him because of this performance against Granada, at least in the short-term, and for fans of footballers who are both flamboyant and effortless in a stylistic sense, that can only be a good thing.