Brazil is commemorating the one-year anniversary of Pele's passing, a somber occasion heightened by Santos' decision to retire the iconic number 10 shirt, not as a tribute to the legendary king but as a symbolic response to the club's historic relegation to the second division.
Santos, a team that had never experienced top-division relegation in its 111-year history, faced a severe blow to its fortunes, leading to fans feeling that Pele's protective presence was no longer watching over them. Despite hopes of avoiding relegation in the final round, Santos succumbed to a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat against Fortaleza, triggering a wave of harsh reactions from devastated fans.
The club's decline has been attributed to a long-term project initiated in the previous decade, characterized by financial mismanagement and reckless decision-making by club presidents. President José Carlos Pérez's financial mismanagement left the club heavily in debt, reaching half a billion Brazilian reals (approximately 100 million euros).
The subsequent impeachment of Pérez and the appointment of Anders Rueda aimed at stabilizing the club, but Rueda's lack of football expertise and strategic planning led to ongoing turmoil, frequent coaching changes, and inconsistent player performances.
The disastrous 2023 season witnessed Santos recruiting 21 new players without a clear strategy, resembling a chaotic version of Chelsea. Poor results in the Paulista League and early elimination from the Copa Sudamericana set the tone for Santos' dismal performance in the Brazilian league.
The team's descent included the dismissal of three coaches and a series of scandals involving key players, undermining the potential contribution of emerging star Marcos Leonardo.
The decline is particularly disheartening given Santos' recent emergence of young talent, such as Marcos Leonardo, who failed to compensate for the overall poor team performance. Pele's absence added to the melancholy, with legendary striker Pepe expressing deep sadness.
As Santos faces the challenge of rebuilding in the second division, the focus shifts to restoring the club's former glory and finding a worthy successor to don the revered number 10 black and white shirt in the future.