If a friend who didn’t know anything about football asked you who Real Madrid are, what values they have, and what they represent, how would you respond?
You might talk about Real Madrid’s glorious relationship with the UEFA Champions League, pointing to the five consecutive European Cups from 1956-1960. Or you might present Real Madrid as a financial behemoth - as the most marketable and recognizable sports brand on the planet. Alternatively, you might speak in the abstract, describing qualities of passion, pride, and excitement.
Those are all worthy answers in their own right and there’s a level of ambiguity in the concept of identity that allows for personal interpretations, since Real Madrid can mean different things to different people. But I’d like to believe there’s some shared idea of what the club represents to all fans - an overlap that can be captured by a single entity or a simple explanation.
From my perspective, that single entity and explanation is Marcelo. So, if someone were to ask me what Real represented, I would simply request that they watch the Brazilian play, starting with the match against Levante.
Marcelo’s passion was on full show that game, following a screamer he blasted into the net in a losing effort against Levante. He pumped his fists, celebrated with his teammates, let loose several guttural cries, and pointed to the club badge on his jersey multiple times.
These vocal displays of affection were preceded by a herculean effort to get Madrid back in the contest. With no wins and no goals in four matches, Lopetegui’s job on the line, and his team down two goals to nil, Marcelo turned into a sheer force of nature. He constantly burst down the overlap to fire crosses at the opposition, advanced play urgently with sweeping long balls, ghosted past markers to create chaos, and manufactured shots on goal.
All of it was ultimately futile and most of the Madrid players seemed to feel that sense of inevitability well before full-time. As each shot cracked off the woodwork and deflected off the tentacles of Oier Olazábal, everyone looked at the skies in exasperation at their misfortune.
Everyone except Marcelo.
Despite likely feeling the sense of inevitability himself, and despite being visibly injured in the second half, he refused to give up. He scrunched up his face, pushed the pain out of his mind, and proceeded to produce inspiration out of thin air...
...and throw himself into a last-ditch tackle in the dying embers of the game.
But the futility of his efforts were summed up as Morales latched onto the loose ball enabled by Marcelo’s challenge and sprinted into a free 1v1 with Keylor Navas.
In contrast, the outcome and events of the match vs. Viktoria Plzeň were quite different. Real started on the front foot, got their luck on a couple Plzeň counters, picked up the lead, and survived a late burst by the opposition to snap the bad streak and secure the victory.
Once again, Marcelo was the protagonist. Seeing the precariousness of the 1-0 advantage at half-time, he grasped the game by the scruff of the neck and combined with Valverde and Bale to create another moment of genius.
The result of that strike and the results of Marcelo’s earlier efforts against Levante could not have been more opposite, and yet, there was something undeniably “Madrid” about all of those moments. There was the unbridled passion, the attacking flair and verve, the prospect of inspiration at every turn, the will to fight to the end and risk limb and health in the process (literally), and the vulnerability on defense.
If you’re confused as to whether I’m referring to Marcelo or Real Madrid here, you’re not alone. I myself am unsure because I don’t know how it’s possible for one to separate two things so similar, so synonymous with each other, that they can essentially be described as the same thing.
Is it even worth it? Is it even worth the time to pick apart the semantics to figure out the slight differences between Marcelo and the values Madridistas hold so dear?
Maybe, but it’s certainly something your friend won’t have the time or willingness to do. Instead, they’ll watch as Marcelo thumps the crest on his chest; eviscerates defenders; bends perfect crosses into the box; lets attackers sneak into the space behind; pushes till well past his legs give out and the result seems determined; before walking away with the realization of one undeniable truth - Marcelo is Madridismo.