The Villarreal playmaker has long defied easy labels, but he'll have to fit in somewhere for El Tri in Brazil.Giovani dos Santos had only shown relatively brief flickers of the kind of form that, perhaps unfairly, was expected of him ever since he etched his name into the consciousness of Mexico fans with the Under-17s World Cup victory back in 2005.
Finally now, at Villarreal, the 24-year-old, who has already passed through seven different sides in three different countries, seems to have found some sense of belonging at a club, as Monday’s 5-1 demolition of his friend Carlos Vela’s Real Sociedad highlighted.
Dos Santos netted twice, set up two other goals and was the focal point of a masterful team display as Villarreal cemented itself as a genuine challenger for a Champions League spot next season.
It was the high point of a season so far for Dos Santos, who seems to have a newfound maturity and consistency in his play.
A large part of the credit for Dos Santos’ form has to go to Villarreal coach Marcelino Garcia.
The Spaniard has consistently massaged Dos Santos’ ego by reinforcing the importance of the Mexican to the team in interviews, but more importantly, has been adamant that his best position is down the center.
Many thought the left-footed Dos Santos was best on the right wing. Others saw him more of a left-winger. Not many viewed him as a center forward.
The indecision over where to play Dos Santos was almost as damaging as the frequency with which he was packing his bags and moving from club to club in search of playing time in his fledgling career.
“He will play very few minutes on the wing,” said Garcia just after Dos Santos signed, in widely published quotes. “I coached him at Racing and I think I know in which position he’ll perform best and in which he feels most comfortable.”
“Giovani is a second striker or a number nine if you play very defensively,” he added.
In sticking to that initial statement, Garcia seems to have settled the debate as to what is Dos Santos’ best position.
The U-17 World Cup winner and Olympic gold medalist is free to roam off central striker Ikechukwu Uche – with whom Dos Santos has struck up a good understanding – to find pockets of space and cause that classic dilemma for an opposition team of whether it should be defenders or midfielders picking him up.
Dos Santos’ intelligence and confidence means he is adept at the role, popping up on the wings to outnumber opposition in different areas of the pitch, dropping into midfield or running off Uche.
He also looks to have bulked up and is riding challenges and bursting past opponents to continue plays, whereas once he would’ve fallen to the ground.
Of course, Mexico coach Miguel Herrera will have been watching Dos Santos and his form and it has repercussions for El Tri in a World Cup year.
The way Dos Santos is playing means he is not only a shoe-in for a starting spot in Brazil, but is looking ready to become the focal point of El Tri that he has always threatened to be. Within Herrera’s 5-3-2 system, the only real position he can feature in is one of the two strikers.
The old debate of whether it should be Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez or Oribe Peralta to accompany Dos Santos will rumble up until June, but then there is the possibility that Herrera and Vela can find common ground when the coach travels to Europe next month.
It seems like it has come all of a sudden, but Herrera suddenly seems to have a genuine headache regarding his frontline ahead of Brazil. The difference compared to De la Torre just a few months back is that this time it a positive problem to contemplate.