Sao Paulo: More muscle, fewer injuries, and a helping hand from experienced players like Kaka and Denilson have helped Paulo Henrique Ganso return to top form with a Sao Paulo team in the hunt for two trophies as the South American season moves to a close.
Ganso`s resurgence is one of the reasons Sao Paulo are in second place in Brazil`s Serie A and the semi-final of the Copa-Sulamericana, South America`s version of the Europa League.
The lithe playmaker believes his current form is as good as at any time since 2011, the year he was singled out as Brazil`s next great midfielder and his partnership with Neymar helped Santos to the Libertadores Cup for the first time since Pele wore their famous white shirt in the 1960s.
"It`s a fantastic time for me right now," Ganso told Reuters in an interview after training this week. "I am playing well, scoring goals and we`re in with a chance in two different competitions.
"I am still young but there is more maturity about my play and I feel like I can find players more easily with passes, I know the shortcuts now," the 25-year old added.
"I`ve bulked up. I help mark, I get back to defend, I`m finding space to move forward. Things I didn`t do before. Things couldn`t be better."
Ganso was always tall and lean. When Santos won the Libertadores there were only 72 kilos on his six-foot (1.83-metre) frame. Now, though, the right-footed midfielder has added seven kilos to that, giving him a solidity that was lacking in the rough-and-tumble of the South American game.
While his skills mean he will always be a passer rather than a battler, the extra muscle means he is more durable, and more confident, a quality vital for a player who is naturally shy and who suffered from an unhappy last year at Santos when the fans turned on him over protracted contract talks.
"I am stronger and less susceptible to injuries now," he said, two years after joining rivals Sao Paulo in one of the biggest ever transfers between Brazilian clubs.
"I had a lot of injuries and it affected me, I was a bit down, I lacked in self-belief."
That newfound confidence is apparent in his play. Ganso is a throwback to the languid South American midfielders of old, players like Juan Roman Riquelme, who lacked pace but spread passes around the pitch with geometric precision.
He is not only making more of those passes than he used to, he is also scoring goals, including a few spectacular ones.
Ganso has seven goals and 12 assists this year, already more than in 2013, with six weeks of the season still to go.
Most importantly for a player who suffered from repeated knee injuries, his resilience has led to his longest injury-free spell since he made his professional debut in 2008. He played 69 games last year, the most since 2010, and could reach a similar number this year.
Ganso said some of the credit for his resurgence goes to the past and former Sao Paulo players who gave him a helping hand.
Former Sao Paulo and Real Betis winger Denilson advised him to add more muscle to his frame, while two other World Cup veterans, goalkeeper Zetti and defender Jorginho, urged him to buckle down and believe in himself.
On the field Kaka -- who is back at his first club on loan before joining Orlando next year -- has been a stabilising influence.
Ganso hopes the good run of form will lead to an international recall. He already has 11 caps but his last international appearance was in 2012 and he admitted he often calls Neymar, who made him godfather of his son, to chat about goings on with the Selecao.