I am not here for tourism: Delhi Dynamos' Marcelinho on ISL 2016 and playing with Malouda in video games

Marcelinho likes to play football on the gaming console. Like many other footballers, he enjoys putting himself in somebody else's shoes, but on Wednesday, in the second leg of the Indian Super League (ISL) semi-final in Delhi, he has to deliver on the pitch. And deliver big time. Delhi are 0-1 down to Kerala Blasters and in a tight spot, and Marcelinho would be the player that Delhi would be banking on heavily.

To take Delhi over the line, Marcelinho (or Marcelo Leite Pereira, as his full name goes) would be expected to pair up with Champions League winner and World Cup finalist Florent Malouda – a star, Marcelinho tells me, he never thought that he would get a chance to share a football pitch with.

File photo of Delhi Dynamos player Marcelinho. Image courtesy: Facebook/ @DelhiDynamosFC

File photo of Delhi Dynamos player Marcelinho. Image courtesy: Facebook/ @DelhiDynamosFC

"He is the most intelligent player I have played with. With one touch, he can give me the perfect ball. His movement is perfect. I used to play with him in video games, now I play with him on the pitch!" says Marcelinho. He is visibly excited as he talks about playing with Malouda.

We are sitting in the team hotel. Due to lack of space, we find a spot in a small corner. I sit uneasily. My interviewee, though, is comfortable. He's used to finding spaces in tight corners. This is his territory. He is calm, composed. With nine goals and five assists, Marcelinho has already taken the competition by storm.

But it did not begin so well for him. In the first six games, Marcelinho had scored two goals, both of which had come from the penalty spot. For all his direct running, he had not scored from open play. On Diwali, Dynamos paid a visit to Goa knowing very well that nothing less than three points will do. A five-game winless run had put significant pressure on Gianluca Zambrotta's men.

An unimpressive first half only birthed more doubts. Marcelinho was on the bench but Zambrotta brought him on in the second half as he desperately sought a comeback. The Brazilian did not disappoint as he scored one and provided the assist for another in a 2-0 win. From that point onwards, Marcelinho has only gone from strength to strength. No wonder he cherishes the goal. "It is about the moment. We badly needed the victory (against FC Goa) and the goal came from my foot," said the Brazilian.

From his junior days, Marcelinho has played on the flanks or behind the striker. "I was very fast while growing up, that was my best quality," he says with the confidence of a man who has left many an opponent behind with blitzing runs. Marcelinho considers a wide position to be his favourite on the pitch for it allows him space to run. Furthermore, he exploits it to make angled runs into the box. Although he is adept at playing in the hole behind the striker in a partnership, it is as a wide forward that he is most effective.

"When I take the ball, I try to run directly to the goal. I want to run fast and take a shot or make an assist." Marcelinho has been able to put his words into action a fair few times this season. Despite playing in a competition that challenges a player physically, the 29-year-old has been attuned to the ISL's demands. Sleeping well is the answer, if you believe him.

Before coming to India, Marcelinho slept on the decision. He canvassed opinion from FC Goa manager Zico and other Brazilians who had ISL experience. In the end, it was Prashant Aggarwal who convinced him that the Dynamos should be his next destination. Marcelinho was playing for the Brazilian club Anapolis then, after a move to an unnamed South Korean side had fallen through. He was biding his time before he made the next move.

Marcelinho left his country for the first time at the age of 18, to play for Atletico Madrid's B side. A stint with Getafe's reserves followed but it was in Greece that he found a home. From 2008-'13, Marcelinho was in a place where he could play regular football at the senior level. Four of those years were spent at Skoda Xanthi which even gave him an opportunity to play in the UEFA Europa League. No wonder then that Marcelinho looks back at his time there fondly.

"When I went to Greece, I was very young. I was only 20 years old. But then I played many games, I grew up there (as a footballer). I got a chance to play in Europe. My child was born there, I speak the language. The place is special to me."

But the dream soured a bit when he was sold to Abu Dhabi-based Baniyas SC. His time there did not pan out well. However, he was able to get a transfer to Catania in Italy after a year. Once again, things did not go to plan.

"When I was signed by Catania, they were in Serie A. But by the time I came back from holiday, they had been relegated. I was disappointed but it was still a big challenge for me because Catania was a big team in Serie B. We needed to adjust to the situation. It was a strong championship."

Although Marcelinho failed to leave an impact on the pitch and the club got embroiled in a match-fixing scandal, he cherishes his time in Italy. The Brazilian believes he learnt things there he did not even know before. The focus on minor details in Italian coaching helped his game. The benefits are there for everyone to see, under the stewardship of an Italian manager.

Yet, Marcelinho has been surprised by the level of competition in the ISL. But his strong belief in his own abilities continues to carry him through. "I'm not here for tourism," said Marcelinho, succinctly.

The seriousness with which he regards the whole exercise was evident in his reaction following a penalty miss versus Atletico de Kolkata. A minute after Marcelinho missed the spot kick, Atletico got one of their own and it was converted by Iain Hume. The match finished 1-0 in the host's favour. It was the first defeat of the campaign for the Dynamos.

"When I missed the penalty, I thought for days and nights about the miss. I like to take responsibility for my mistakes. The next day the coach called me and told me not to worry and he supported me. It happens."

Indeed, Zambrotta's influence on Marcelinho has been obvious. The Brazilian holds the manager in high regard and it is clear that he enjoys being at the centre of his plans. However, Marcelinho remains aware of his team's mindset. The emphasis on attack means that there can be a battle between teammates for the goals. But Marcelinho enjoys the challenge.

"Sometimes all of us want too much. I want too much, (Richard) Gadze wants too much. But this problem helps the team. So, it's good."

Indeed, as Delhi Dynamos prepare for their make-or-break second leg of the ISL semi-final against Kerala Blasters, the team seems to have problems that nobody in the camp would mind. In spite of the odd blip, stability has been the hallmark of the side's campaign. If things do get tough, Dynamos will expect Marcelinho to rise to the occasion. He is, after all, the kind of player you want when you play football on the gaming console.

Updated Date: Dec 14, 2016 11:21 AM

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