Since its foundation at the insistence of the late Johan Cruyff, Barcelona’s La Masia has boasted a storied dynasty of proficient protégés. Graduates of Barça’s famed academy haven’t only dominated line-ups of the Catalan club, but those too of the national side; one that won its first World Cup with a squad featuring no fewer than nine La Masia graduates. Yet, Spain isn’t the only nation to benefit.
South American footballers were frequently scouted by Barça throughout the turn of the century to form the remainder of what most consider to be the world’s most celebrated youth system. After a certain diminutive Argentinian proved to be an undoubted success, two Mexican brothers were touted to follow a similar course: Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos.
Giovani and Jonathan have featured together for no fewer than four sides, but were first spotted competing together in a youth tournament in France. Here the duo impressed Barça scouts in attendance enough to earn themselves La Masia scholarships, with Giovani’s senior debut coming soon after.
Giovani would feature several times for the senior side throughout the 2007/08 season, with his most notable outing arriving versus Real Murcia, when the forward scored a hat-trick. Shortly after the conclusion of his debut season and inclusion in World Soccer’s ‘Top 50 Most Exciting Teen Footballers’, Giovani left Catalonia for north London.
Tottenham’s acquisition of the forward signalled the first separation of the Dos Santos brothers at domestic level, with Jonathan remaining in the youth academy. His call-up to the Barça senior side would arrive a couple of seasons after his brother in 2009, although this didn’t prevent Jonathan appearing for Mexico in a series of friendlies beforehand.
Jonathan was considered suitable midfield cover from then Barça coach Pep Guardiola upon his call-up to the senior squad, alongside fellow academy graduate Thiago Alcântara. Thiago would be favoured to Dos Santos as a stand-in to the confluence of Xavi and Andrés Iniesta; an unsurprising choice with hindsight, but at the time this wasn’t Jonathan’s only setback.
Mexico qualified for the 2010 FIFA World Cup; and Giovani, who, despite struggling at White Hart Lane and in the series of loan deals that followed, was still an important figure for his nation throughout qualification. Javier Aguirre, head-coach of the national side, named a provisional squad for the tournament that included both Giovani and his brother, but later left Jonathan out of his final squad. Giovani was said to be furious, to the extent that he considered quitting the squad all-together, but instead stayed, and was voted runner-up for the Young Player of the Tournament award.
Jonathan endured further animosity with his nation throughout the next few seasons, failing to feature in El Tri’s triumph at the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup due to alleged indiscipline. Giovani, meanwhile, featured throughout and scored the goal of the tournament versus the United States with an effort that reminded those in attendance of his potential.
Irreconcilable from their efforts for their nation were those for their clubs. Jonathan featured irregularly for Barça, but his versatility rewarded him with a contract extension. Meanwhile, Giovani had suffered several underwhelming loan spells with Ipswich, Galatasaray and Racing Santander to accompany his performances at White Hart Lane, resulting in a departure back to Spain with Mallorca in 2012.
Giovani’s return ensured another first for the Dos Santos brothers; as they competed against one another when Mallorca travelled to Camp Nou in April 2013, although Giovani’s side would suffer an ominous 5-0 defeat. Mallorca would fail to avoid relegation to the Segunda División, but Giovani’s form throughout the season was enriched and earned him a move to newly-promoted Villarreal.
Success in Spain was on the cards once again for Giovani, who had his most prolific season to date for an El Submarino Amarillo side that achieved a European finish. Jonathan didn’t achieve similar success and was limited to three appearances in his final season in Catalonia, which prompted him to reunite with his brother at El Madrigal. Giovani and Jonathan’s second stint at the same club held mixed results. Jonathan, after a final few stagnant seasons at Barça, benefited notably from a considerable increase to his playing time.
Unfortunately he couldn’t assist his brother, with Giovani succumbing to an underwhelming second season and being offloaded to LA Galaxy in the summer of 2015. This came amidst the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, when for the first time the brothers won silverware together.
By now Jonathan had replaced his elder brother as the Dos Santos mainstay for El Tri. Since their arrival in Barcelona, even amidst underwhelming club stints, Giovani had remained the most notable of the brothers, but this appeared to change after his move to LA.
Jonathan continued to patrol the midfield for a Villarreal side that enjoyed domestic success, even qualifying for the Champions League, but all the while, many asked what had happened to his brother? Well, Giovani felt more at home in North America and enjoyed some success in MLS: featuring in back-to-back All-Star sides and even on the front cover of the US version of EA Sports FIFA 16.
Giovani’s success didn’t last, however, once his brother joined him in LA in July 2017. After an underwhelming few seasons together, the convoluted player registration rules of MLS left the club with a conundrum. This was ultimately resolved by releasing Giovani to allow him to return to his homeland and sign for Club América.
The Dos Santos brothers will be remembered fondly by the El Tri faithful for past successes they’ve contributed towards for their nation. Future triumph for either, however, seems limited at this stage of their careers, at least relative to what they were once touted to achieve.
By Lewis Henderson @_lewisco