Marcelo Vieira da Silva Júnior continues to make history with Real Madrid as he prepares for his twelfth season as a Real Madrid player. No other foreigner took part in more seasons than Marcelo. Who was holding the previous record of 11 seasons? Well, the previous co-holders of this record were two absolute legends of Real Madrid – Alfredo Di Stéfano and Roberto Carlos.
And it's not the first time that Roberto Carlos crossed Marcelo's path and set the bar for him.
Childhood in Botafogo
Marcelo came from a very poor family, living in Rio de Janeiro's Catete neighbourhood. His whole childhood and upbringing are unequivocally tied to his relationship with his grandfather Pedro. Pedro was the single most important person in the world for Marcelo. When he lost his battle with cancer in 2014 just two days before the semifinal against Germany in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Marcelo was devastated
Even though it wasn't a sudden death, you can never prepare for a situation like this. Brazilian NT coach Scolari told Marcelo that he had the next day off, so that he can travel to the funeral. Marcelo declined this offer because he knew that if he went there, he wouldn't, and couldn't come back to the national team.
Marcelo, who was called Marcelinho as a small kid, loved playing with the ball ever since he was born. He had it lying there in his crib and when he could walk he always had it with him. He started to play futsal, which is a form of indoor football, at just four years of age. When he turned eight, he also started playing beach football at Botafogo's beaches, where he loved to play as a goalkeeper, because he could dive all the time and it didn't hurt at all.
His mother wasn't very happy that little Marcelo was constantly playing with the ball and destroying things in the process. At one point, her patience ran out and she started to puncture the balls. However, Marcelo's grandfather was always there to give him another one to play with.
Ever since he turned 10 years old, he practically moved in with his grandparents, who were keeping an eye on him, because his parents were working very late. His grandmother, much like his mother, tried to stop Marcelo from destroying things in the apartment, but his grandfather, his guardian angel, always stepped in and supported Marcelo.
And so Marcelo never stopped playing, not even now when he’s 29. But now he plays together with his son in their apartment.
His grandfather was Marcelo's guardian angel and the crucial person in his childhood. He also used to be a football player, so he could better understand Marcelo. He became his advisor, his biggest support, his teacher, his confidant and he was a father figure to him. They talked all the time and Marcelo was completely open with him. In return, his grandfather had an unwavering faith in Marcelo and he backed his faith with concrete actions.
His grandfather was a driver, but he decided to leave his job because he was taking Marcelo to the training and back. He owned a car, but they didn’t have money for the gas and they also didn't have money for bus tickets. So, he decided to sell the car, put the money aside and keep it for bus tickets.
It was an extraordinary gesture of faith in his 10-year-old grandson. He couldn’t have known that Marcelo would indeed become a football player, but he believed in him and did his utmost to make this dream come true.
His grandfather didn't stop there. Time and time again, he continued to show faith in young Marcelo to an unbelievable degree.
When Marcelo needed to get to the training ground or matches in Xerém, both of which were roughly 50 km away, his grandfather went and bought a small rubbish orange car, which switched radio channels when they steered the wheel, to drive him. The car was bought with money he won in a lottery. His grandfather placed a bet on the Croatian flag and won.
However, getting a car only solved half of their problems. They still needed money for gas and maintenance. Since Marcelo was from a poor family, it took the whole extended family to pay for the trips.
Early days in Fluminense
Marcelo started out in futsal club Helénico. It was a local club created by his uncle and others. They wanted to give the young kids some purpose and joy in life and they tried to steer them clear from drug trafficking. It didn't take long until he drew the attention of Rio's big futsal clubs.
The first one was the famous Fluminense, and soon Marcelo, who was eight years old at that time, was on his way for trials. However, they turned him down, because according to them there were better players than him. The next big club that came knocking on the door was Vasco de Gama. This time, it all worked out and they signed him. However, just after one year of service he was let go. Why? Once again, he was told that there are better players than him.
So, Marcelo yet again returned to Helénico and waited. Shortly, Fluminense called him again and this time he was accepted. In Fluminense, he met with Caio Alves, who became his dear friend, and also his future wife – Clarisse Alves, Caio's sister. When Marcelo met Clarisse, he was determined to win her over, so he agreed to dye his hair blond before a match. However, out of the blue his father showed up to the match. He was furious when he saw Marcelo and signalled to him that he’s a dead man.
Marcelo continued to play futsal until he was 15 years old. He made a strong impression on Fluminense's managers and they decided to promote him to Fluminense's first team. This change hit him hard because he loved futsal and also all his friends played futsal. Suddenly, Marcelo and his friends started to slowly drift apart.
He was separated from his friends because he was spending all him time studying and training at Fluminense, while his friends were elsewhere. It didn't help that Fluminense's coach didn't play him much. A frustration started to build inside Marcelo and one day he said enough’s enough. He told his grandfather that he wants to quit football and leave Fluminense.
It was a huge shock for his grandfather, however, he understood him and told him to give it one more chance. They agreed that if Marcelo starts the next game, he will stay at Fluminense. He did start the next game, so Marcelo continued.
It's unbelievable that Marcelo's whole fantastic career depended on that one single game, and the piece of paper with the starting XI. We should all thank his coach that day, because if he didn't start him, we probably wouldn't have the pleasure of watching this exciting full-back maraud up and down the left flank.
Switching from futsal to football is never easy. There were a number of things he had to adjust to such as playing with boots with studs. He was used to stopping the ball with soles and thanks to thin soles he had better control over the ball. However, when he tried to do the same move with studs, he couldn't stop the ball. It took him some time, but eventually, he learned and benefitted from his futsal background.
Real Madrid swooping in
Marcelo's talent was so evident that after one and half years, and playing 31 games in Fluminense, the European big clubs started to ask for him — chief among them Sevilla. Sevilla quickly struck a deal with Fluminense and signed an agreement. It was practically a done deal.
But then Marcelo heard from someone that Real Madrid are interested in him. He asked the Fluminense's board if it is true, and they confirmed it. Once Marcelo heard that, he knew that there is only one place, where he can and wants to go – Real Madrid. To this day, Monchi considers this unsuccessful transfer as one the most frustrating deals in his career.
Things took a sharp turn and suddenly he was in Madrid signing a contract when he thought he was just going to meet some people from Real Madrid's Board of Directors. During his presentation, he was amazed that 55 people turned up to watch him step onto the pitch. It’s nothing compared to today’s presentations, but for him it was incredible.
He was supposed to be playing in Castilla for the rest of the season, but Fabio Capello wanted him to train with the first team. Real Madrid wanted him to go on loan to gain more experience in La Liga and to further develop. Marcelo didn’t want to hear anything about it. He didn’t mind not playing, but he wanted to stay and fight. It was a tough choice for him because the team didn’t need him at that time and he needed to develop, but eventually, it all worked out for him.
Not only he had to deal with a lack of playing time, but also with a cultural shock. It's always hard to leave your country and move to another, but it's certainly easier to move around Europe than from Brazil to Europe. The climate is completely different to Brazil, as is the mentality of people.
Thankfully, Real Madrid still had Roberto Carlos in their ranks.
Passing the baton
Roberto Carlos was Marcelo's childhood idol. When Marcelo played onBotafogo's beaches, unlike others, he pretended to be Roberto Carlos and not Ronaldo, Pelé or Garrincha.
When Marcelo first met Roberto Carlos, he was speechless and couldn't utter a single word. He was just staring at him with goggly eyes. Even though it doesn't seem like it now, Marcelo was a very shy person at that time.
Roberto Carlos was paramount in his early days in Madrid. He became like family to him and Clarisse. When they first met, Roberto Carlos gave them his number and said that if they need anything, they should call him right away. Of course they didn’t — but Roberto Carlos did, many times. He invited Marcelo and his family for Christmas to his house, because they couldn’t go back to Brazil.
Their friendship also bared fruits on the pitch, as Roberto Carlos personally mentored Marcelo. Early days at Madrid were hard for Marcelo. Inevitably, he drew comparisons to Roberto Carlos. Everybody saw him as his natural successor and they put enormous pressure on this 18-year-old kid.
Another thing he struggled with was tactics. He knew almost nothing about it and to make things worse, Fabio Capello was his coach. Capello wasn’t a defensive coach, but insisted that his team must defend very good. Roberto Carlos was an important figure to both Marcelo and Capello because as fellow Brazilian full-back he could easily relate to Marcelo.
Brazilian full-backs are specific. They have this certain flair for attacking and Roberto Carlos, the archetype of an attacking full-back, knew a thing or two about how to adjust to European football. He advised Marcelo on what to do and how to approach different situations. Little by little, Marcelo learned.
Roberto Carlos's willingness to help Marcelo as much as he could is a testament to his character. It surely isn't easy to watch a young talented kid come in to be your successor and to take your spot. Some players could be bitter about it, some could ignore him and hope that they will keep the spot as long as it's possible, but Roberto Carlos did neither. He did his best to help him succeed.
Marcelo waited eight years for his chance to play in the UEFA Champions League final, but when Real Madrid reached the final in 2014, he found himself on the bench. Even though he played four consecutive games ahead of the final, Carlo Ancelotti placed trust in Fábio Coentrão, who performed brilliantly against Bayern Munich in the semifinals.
It’s hard for any player to sit out a final, especially of this magnitude, but he respected Carlo’s decision. Carlo tried to sooth him and told him that he will be important. Eventually, he was subbed on in the second half and became one of the keys, which helped to unlock Atlético's defense.
After winning the elusive Décima, he couldn’t hold his tears. Eight years after joining Madrid, he evolved into a spectacular left-back and person. He became a leader like his idol – Roberto Carlos.
When you are about to play this kind of a match, you always have mixed feelings. It was a sense of great joy and relief as well because you're playing in a final with the whole world watching, with your family in the stadium and you can't lose a game like that.
Ever since La Décima, the world took notice of Marcelo. Under Carlo Ancelotti, full-backs were given even more importance in the offensive third and Marcelo thrived. His audacious displays captivated the world and Madridistas. His contribution to the team rose and he became one of the most important players in the lineup.
Soon, he became the front runner in the daily discussions about who is the best left-back in the world. But he did face big competition at that time, namely David Alaba. However, shortly, all doubts were cleared and he became the undisputed best left-back in the world.
When he was asked, what was the best moment he experienced in Madrid, he gave a bit surprising, and yet very understandable answer.
'The best moment for me was when I felt like the fans, the people here, the president and my teammates considered me as one of the captains of the side. I have fought and been through a lot, made a lot of sacrifices but you can't put a price on being one of the captains at Real Madrid and hearing people calling you 'Capi'.'
Marcelo's leadership flies under the radar. You can see that he takes this honour and duty very seriously, and as a leader, he compliments Sergio Ramos very well. Sergio is the vocal and serious leader capable of putting everyone in line and making sure everybody is focused on the task ahead. Meanwhile, Marcelo is keeping the good atmosphere in the locker room and ensuring that the players also have some fun. Therefore, it's not surprising that his nickname is ‘brincadeira’ (jokester).
Both of these roles are very important and you can see during every trophy celebration at Plaza Cibeles that Sergio acknowledges that.
Over the past several years, Marcelo received many individual honours, but I think there are two he holds most dear. The first one is a trophy given to him by his grandfather, and the second one is the compliments from his idol.
'I had more power than Marcelo, but he is more skillful and more intelligent. When he gets the ball, he has absolute control over it. He has more quality than I had.'
'Marcelo already is in the history books of Real Madrid, Brazilian football the World football. There will be many great left backs, but it will be hard for them to reach Marcelo’s level. Marcelo is unique.' – Roberto Carlos.
I'm sure that many fans secretly enjoy arguing about who is better. And why not? It's summer and it's certainly better than to talk all the time about ‘Player X linked to Madrid’ when it's crystal clear that it's a completely fabricated rumour. Truthfully, it doesn't matter which one of them is better. Both are fabulous players and we should consider ourselves lucky that they played for Real Madrid.
But yeah, Marcelo is better.