ISL 2017-18: FC Pune City's Marcelinho, the ultimate journeyman who was shaped by his voyages
FC Pune City's Marcelinho opens up about his career, playing for 14 clubs in 11 seasons and growing up playing indoor football in an exclusive interview.
Two tattoos on Marcelinho's right hand stand out. The first, a Gracias Madre or Thank you, mother, which covers the length of his arm.
The second, the names of his wife Juliana and daughter inked on his biceps. It is how the Brazilian striker carries along the three most important women in his life on his many journeys.
In his 11-year career, he has had quite a few journeys. For, Marcelinho is football's ultimate journeyman — his 11-year career having seen him play at 14 clubs around the world with chapters in countries like Greece, Italy, Abu Dhabi, not to mention occasional whistle-stop stints back in homeland Brazil.
And the latest stop of his career is in Pune, who hosted the Brazilian’s former Indian Super League (ISL) club Delhi Dynamos on Wednesday. The match ended in a 3-2 defeat for Pune, though there were moments when the Brazilian sparkled. With the match entering into the last minute of extra time, and defeat certain given the 3-1 deficit, he received the ball on the right flank. He drove to the Delhi goal, beating Lalhmangaihsanga Ralte for pace before laying on an easy cross which Marcos Tebar tapped in.
He made waves during his stint at the club in the capital, scoring 10 goals and racked up five assists in 15 matches to lay claim on the Golden Boot last season.
“I'm very happy with the way my career has panned out. I've had some good experiences playing football, especially in Greece, where I have played for five years. I've learnt a lot of languages, I've had a lot of magical experiences. I've grown as a man, and as a footballer. These experiences have made me feel strong and confident in my life,” the 30-year-old tells Firstpost.
A legacy of his frequent travels is that he now speaks five languages: English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Greek.
"Not so much, but I've picked up a word here and there from teammates," he divulges.
He may not be able to speak Hindi too well, but he created magic in season 3 of the ISL on the pitch. Of course, it helps when you have a player of the calibre of Florent Malouda playing alongside you. But even in one-on-one situations, he would often trick his way past rival defenders with his guile — a trait he links back to his days playing indoor football as a child.
“I started playing indoor football, which is normal in Brazil. When you play in a small space, you quickly develop good abilities on the ball. You learn to think quickly. Most importantly, you get the ball all the time because it’s five-a-side football. It’s something that the Brazilians do differently than the rest of the world, I believe. If you read about the history of the players from Brazil who went on to become legends like Ronaldo or Robinho or Neymar, everyone starts playing indoors. It’s important for kids to learn to play that way,” the Brazilian says.
That stint soon earned him a berth at Flamengo’s famed youth academy.
“My career began at Flamengo, where I played for all of my youth career. When I turned 18, everything started happening for me as the opportunity to play for Atletico de Madrid appeared out of thin air.
“Flamengo wanted to buy a Paraguayan footballer, I cannot recollect his name, from Atletico, but they didn’t have the money to pay. So they offered me in exchange. But it’s okay. It was a good experience for me,” he says.
At Atletico, he got limited opportunities to play for the team. But more importantly, he got to rub shoulders with the likes of Sergio Aguero and Fernando Torres, who were both getting noticed for their performances on the pitch.
Chances for Marcelinho to shine, however, were few and far between, ending with him being sent to Getafe for a short while. But when even that switch didn’t work out, he did the only thing that made sense for a 21-year-old in a different continent without a job: he came home.
“I spent only one year in Spain, at the end of which, I decided to come back to Brazil to think about my life. My stay in Spain was very nice. I was part of Atletico’s second team. I got a chance to be with good players like (Sergio) Aguero and Fernando (Torres). It was my first time outside Brazil far away from my parents. So it was very difficult.
“But today I can say that the experience made me very strong. When you start life outside your country, it’s a different experience as a player and as a man,” he recollects.
As he played for little-known clubs in Brazil like Tompense and Ipatinga, his big break arrived, even though it didn’t feel like it at that moment. Kalamata FC wanted to sign him. They were not a big name in world football, but it was still an opportunity to play in Europe.
A season later, the biggest turning point in his career fell in his lap: Skoda Xanthi, a Greek Super League club wanted him on board. It would prove to be the most fruitful stint of his career. At four seasons, it was his longest stint at a club too.
Incredulously, barring the Xanthi stint, he has never lasted at a club for more than a few seasons.
“There have always been different reasons for this,” he says. “In Emirates (when he played for Baniyas in the 2013-14 season), my team was not so good. In Italy (when he played for Catania in the 2014-15 season), I was not playing. In Brazil (with Vitoria in 2007, Tompense in 2008 and Anapolis in 2016), I got into short contracts. In Anapolis, I had returned to Brazil after my stint in Greece, the transfer window had closed. I had to wait for June for transfer season to restart. So I decided to sign a short-term contract to maintain my match fitness. It was just a contract for three months. But it was a fantastic experience. It was always due to some different reason. It happens,” he shrugs.
“In Abu Dhabi (at Baniyas), they got me from Greece. I was playing in UEFA Champions League play-offs. I was at the zenith of my career. It was a big transfer for both clubs. But when I went there you how the mentality of clubs from the Middle East is. If things don’t go well, they change everything. They’ll change players, the coach, all the coaching staff. Almost everyone. Because they have money they think they can control everything. We started well. But after five or six months we lost three or four matches and the owner decided to change the entire team. You need to accept it,” he adds.
The stints were short, but some of the experience left a scar.
“There have been a lot of tough moments in my career. When you are far away from your house and you’re not playing, it’s tough. When my wife was pregnant with my first daughter, she was alone in Greece while I moved clubs to Baniyas in UAE. It was very difficult for her.
“In Greece, while I was playing at Atromikos, I was told that I won’t play for the club and was made to train alone. I needed to be really strong. I was training alone with my family outside of my house.”
But even short stints and tough times brought along major learning curves.
“All the difficult times made me stronger as a man. In Italy, I learnt the tactical way of the football. There even during training, you have to have a different mentality. You have to be strong. My short time in Italy was like a big stint in school. I learnt things that are very important: how to play tactically, how to be disciplined in matches and how to have a physical presence on the pitch. The Italians are very particular about these things. So it was different.
“Each stint, each culture has been good because I learnt a lot of languages. I learnt a lot of styles of playing football.”
Currently, he’s living in Pune alone with his wife, pregnant with their second child, and daughter back in Brazil.
The couple’s second child is expected in December.
Then, he can get another name tattooed on his hand.
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