The keys Hugo Sanchez left to his soccer kingdom were lost in a drunken stupor.
Hugo Sanchez was Mexico’s greatest player, putting the nation on his back in an era where El Tri struggled mightily. He was one of the few bright spots for Mexico during a dismal spell in the late ’70s and ’80s.
His success as an international player was dwarfed by his prodigious club career.
His bicycle kick against Real Madrid is one of the greatest goals of all time.
In the mid to late ’80s, he was the best player in La Liga, finishing as the league’s top scorer four years in a row – the only player ever to do so.
Sanchez had a famous stable of running mates known as La Quinta del Buitre (Vulture’s Cohort) that inluded Emilio Butragueño, Manuel Sanchís, Martín Vázquez, Míchel and Miguel Pardeza. With this core group of players, Real Madrid won five consecutive league titles from 1986 to 1990.
He was the most prolific foreign-born goalscorer (234 goals) in La Liga history until Messi surpassed him in 2014, and he had the most goals in a single La Liga season (38 in 1990) until Cristiano Ronaldo dropped 40 in 2011.
When he retired in 1998, he left the keys to the kingdom on the table.
The Golden Child
Giovani dos Santos’ talent manifested itself almost at birth. By the time he was 11, Barcelona had imported him into La Maisa, the legendary youth academy that Johann Cruyff established. Other residents included the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique.
Gio’s career was on a marked upward trajectory. He spent his days training with players like Ronaldinho and Messi – players who would go on to reshape the game of soccer.
Gio broke into Barcelona’s senior squad during a friendly in 2006 and made his competitive league debut in 2007. He scored a hat trick at the end 2007-2008 La Liga season, which would be his last game in a Barcelona uniform.
Tottenham landed Gio in 2008 after they paid Barcelona €6 million to acquire him. Despite his high price tag, he lasted only 12 games before being sent away on a loan to English club Ipswich Town – a team that hasn’t played in the Premiership since 2002.
Gio’s loan to Ipswich Town was where things started to go wrong. The young star’s strong thirst for liquor began to take its toll. He never met a party he didn’t like. Late nights turned to early mornings and Gio began showing up late for practice. His focus was off.
None of this was lost on Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp, who was becoming increasingly incensed with Giovani’s behavior.
“IF HE COULD PASS A NIGHTCLUB AS WELL AS HE COULD PASS A BALL, HE WOULD BE ALRIGHT.”
Harry Redknapp, former Tottenham manager
Dos Santos’ behavior did not improve, and he found himself loaned out to Turkish side Galatasaray. Despite being reunited with Frank Rijkaard, his old coach from Barcelona, Gio failed to score during the six months he was with Galatasaray.
In the summer of 2010, he returned to Tottenham, but his relationship with the club and Redknapp was too far gone.
“HE’S GOT BAGS OF ABILITY AND FANTASTIC SKILL. SUDDENLY HE WAS LATE ON MONDAY MORNINGS…UPSET STOMACH. HE’D PROBABLY BEEN IN BARCELONA, PARTYING SOMEWHERE.”
Realizing that he couldn’t mend what he’d broken at Tottenham, Gio requested a transfer in the summer of 2012.
He signed with RCD Mallorca in La Liga in August of 2012, where he was an integral part of a mediocre team. Mallorca faced relegation at the end of the season, but Gio signed with Villarreal CF in July of 2013 after they paid Mallorca €6 million.
Gio had a solid season the following year for Villarreal, helping the team to a sixth place finish and picking up 11 goals and 8 assists along the way before signing with the LA Galaxy in July of 2015.
Mexican National Team
Giovani got his first start for the Mexican national team against Panama in 2007 when he was handpicked by none other than Hugo Sanchez, who was managing El Tri at that time. He wore the all-important number 10 jersey during his debut.
Gio led Mexico to its fifth Gold Cup title in 2009 and was named player of the tournament for his efforts. He started every game of the 2010 World Cup, finishing as runner up to Germany’s Thomas Müller for the FIFA Young Player of the Tournament Award.
Mexican fans will best remember dos Santos for his goal against the United States in the 2011 Gold Cup, where he danced around a gaggle of American defenders before chipping the ball into the upper left corner.
He was also featured in the 2014 World Cup, scoring against the Netherlands in the Round of 16.
Giovani dos Santos notoriously declined to participate in the Copa América Centenario in 2016.
Giovani dos Santos declined the national team call for the Copa America.
— Tom Marshall (@mexicoworldcup) May 17, 2016
Agradezco profundamente a la FMF considerarme. No puedo participar en esta ocasión, pero mi corazón estará con ustedes siempre.
— Giovani Dos Santos (@OficialGio) May 18, 2016
Espero pronto pueda regresar con gran entusiasmo de llevar la camiseta de mi tan amado país.
— Giovani Dos Santos (@OficialGio) May 18, 2016
Without Giovani Dos Santos, Mexico suffered their worst ever competitive defeat in the quarterfinals of the Copa America:
Haven’t seen a beating like that since Germany put the hurt on Brazil in 2014.
Gio is one of Mexico’s best players but his legacy will always be one of talent wasted.
What could have been.
He was on track to be a paradigm-shifting player – a contemporary of Messi and Ronaldinho.
Since their days at Barcelona together, their legacies have unraveled and separated.
Messi sits alone on top of Mount Olympus; the little king.
Ronaldinho occupies his own special place in our hearts. A whirl of legs and hair with that trademark grin plastered across his face.
Where does Dos Santos fit?
He was a precocious talent, poised to eclipse Hugo Sanchez as the greatest Mexican soccer player of all time. But his rise to superstardom was derailed by his lack of focus; his talent diluted by a sea of liquor.
He is the boy who would have been king.