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 By Tim Vickery

Sevilla's Ganso has gone from superstar in Brazil to forgotten man in Europe

Ganso has had fleeting moments but has found European football tough overall since arriving at Sevilla in 2016.

When Sevilla take the field against Manchester United in the Champions League on Wednesday, Paulo Henrique Ganso will not be in their ranks.

The Brazilian playmaker has been left out of Sevilla's Champions League squad, effectively declared surplus to requirements. Meanwhile, his old Santos teammate Neymar is one of the stars of the competition, and is the most expensive player in the world after his move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain.

The pair exploded together with Santos, especially with a sequence of dazzling performances in the early months of 2010. There was a huge media campaign to try and force the inclusion of both in coach Dunga's squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Indeed, the calls for Ganso were much louder than those for Neymar. It was common to hear the view that, of the two, Ganso was the one more likely to be destined for greatness.

And so, eight years down the line, why have thigs worked out so differently? Why is Neymar the big star, and Ganso the also ran?

In part, the story can be explained by the injuries that Ganso has suffered. His career has been held back by knee problems and the need for surgery.

But that is not all. There is not the slightest doubt that Ganso was lauded to the skies long before he had learned to fly. In retrospect, the proclamation of Ganso as a superstar had more to do with wish than reality.

Neymar has a dazzling range of talent. But he first caught the general eye with his dribbling skills. Brazil produces plenty of dribblers; true, no one in recent times does it as well as Neymar, but he took a while to able to produce his best against quality defenders. Ganso, meanwhile, came across as something different; an old style, foot on the ball playmaker, with the capacity to thread sublime passes through packed opposing defences. This is something Brazilian football had not seen in a while. It almost felt as if the years were being rolled back, to the days of Didi in 1958 or Gerson in 1970, when as well as the best dribblers in the game, Brazil could also count on the best midfield playmakers.

At one stage, Neymar and Ganso were on an equal level in terms of hype while at Santos.
Neymar (L) and Ganso (R) were once tabbed as Brazil's next superstars; only one has ultimately earned that label.

And so the desire for Ganso to be great meant that key parts of evidence were overlooked. Eight years ago, when Santos were shining so brightly, it was in the Sao Paulo State Championship. These days this is not a competition of any great quality. That year, all of their big local rivals (Corinthians, Palmeiras and Sao Paulo) were taking part in the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League, and so, effectively, Santos had the local field to themselves.

The idea that performances in the Sao Paulo State Championship were relevant to the World Cup was patently absurd. But the local press, and the local football community, got caught up in the hype. It became common to hear -- not only from journalists but also from rival players -- that Ganso was the best in the world in his position. And the player himself started to believe it. He declared himself "furious" when he was not named in Brazil's squad for South Africa 2010. It appeared that his performances just a few months earlier in the 2009 Under-20 World Cup had been forgotten -- he came up with the occasional good moment but proved unable to stamp his authority on the game.

But could he ever do this at the highest level? During his time in Brazilian football, Clarence Seedorf stunned an audience of Brazilian journalists by doubting Ganso's long-term future. His talent was undeniable. But, said Seedorf, Brazilian football with its deep-lying defences gave Ganso plenty of space. The zone of the pitch where he likes to operate -- behind the strikers -- is much more crowded in the more compact football of Europe.

And so it has proved. One after the other, three coaches at Sevilla appear to have come to the conclusion that Ganso is a luxury player, talented but unable to tip the balance, or even to make much of a contribution, at the highest level.

It is clear that in recent times players with Ganso's skill set have been forced back, dropping to find space, organising the game from deeper with their range of passing. Andrea Pirlo is the shining example. Maybe had Ganso moved to Europe earlier -- he went in 2016 at the age of 26 -- he would have developed in a different way.

The performance of Giovani Lo Celso for PSG against Real Madrid last week highlights the pitfalls; an elegant playmaker without many defensive responsibilities in Argentine football, he clearly struggled with his marking duties. It is arguable that PSG coach Unai Emery expected too much of him. But Lo Celso is 21, and has time to learn. Paulo Henrique Ganso is 28, and instead of starring in the Champions League, he is forced to watch from the sidelines.

Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.

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