What: Marcelo’s debut
When: January 7th 2006
Who: Against Deportivo La Coruña
Where: Riazor, A Coruña
Score: Deportivo La Coruña 2-0 Real Madrid
Goals: 1-0 (Joan Capdevila, min 10), 2-0 (Cristian Hidalgo, min 56)
Real Madrid line-up: Iker Casillas; Míchel Salgado (Marcelo, min 57), Iván Helguera, Fabio Cannavaro, Sergio Ramos; Guti (David Beckham, min 13), Fernando Gago (Ronaldo, min 57), Émerson; Raúl, Ruud van Nistelrooy, José Antonio Reyes
Coach: Fabio Capello
There’s a moment from Marcelo’s debut that most will have forgotten. Marcelo himself probably couldn’t recall it, not even if he squinted and peered deep into his memory banks. It comes 15 minutes into his first Real Madrid appearance, away at Deportivo La Coruña in the first week of January of 2007. Marcelo, who had just joined from Fluminense aged 18, put the ball down to take a freekick inside his own half near the left touchline and with no other player within 10 metres. The other players, both his teammates and the opposition, are in the other half waiting for the ball to be lofted forward. Instead, Marcelo tries a crossfield pass through the air to right-back Sergio Ramos. Like a carrier bag dropped from a skyscraper, the ball blows this way, that way and eventually backwards and Ramos has to really struggle to control it. Welcome to Galician weather, Marcelo. Welcome to Europe.
This debut wasn’t an enjoyable one for Marcelo, almost unrecognizable with his shaved head. Real Madrid weren’t in good form and went away to Riazor, to a stadium where they hadn’t won in 15 years. Even though they wore their away kit on this occasion, perhaps hoping that black would break the Riazor curse, they didn’t have success on this visit and fell behind to a 10th-minute Joan Capdevila freekick and then went further behind when Cristian Hidalgo slotted into an empty net after come calamitous defending 10 minutes into the second half.
It was then that coach Fabio Capello decided to give new arrival Marcelo his debut as part of a double substitution. Ronaldo Nazário was the other man coming on and the two Brazilians, the veteran and the rookie, stood together on the touchline waiting to come on to try to change this game, both at different ends of their respective Real Madrid careers.
Ronaldo came on for Fernando Gago, also making his debut, while Marcelo replaced a furious Míchel Salgado, who was frustrated at the fact that his team were losing and at the fact that they were losing to Depor, the rivals of Celta Vigo, the club whose academy the Galician full-back had come through. With Salgado coming off, Ramos moved from left-back to right-back and Marcelo took up the spot on the left of defence. There were 33 minutes left for him to try to make a difference and to alter the 2 - 0 scoreline.
It didn’t go Marcelo’s way, though. In addition to that wayward cross-field freekick, Marcelo had several hairy moments in his battle with Uruguayan winger Fabián Estoyanoff. It wasn’t just defending Estoyanoff that Marcelo struggled with. It was beating him too. The teenager’s first involvement in a Real Madrid attack came a few minutes after coming on when Raúl laid a ball for him to attack on the left flank, but Estoyanoff was there and shut down the attack before it could even get started.
When it came to defending, Marcelo was in the middle of an uneven sandwich. On one side, at left centre-back, he had the safety net of Fabio Cannavaro, the recently crowned Ballon d’Or winner, while on the other side he had José Antonio Reyes, who didn’t offer much defensive support at all. Reyes and David Beckham regularly switched wings in the second half of this game, but Beckham never came as far left as Reyes went right, so Marcelo was frequently left isolated and forced to go up against two men on multiple occasions. Understandably, he struggled in these situations, especially against Estoyanoff, but with Cannavaro just behind and mopping up this didn’t lead to any more goals.
As the game went on, Marcelo did start to grow into it a little. Even as the Depor fans chanted “jump, Riazor, jump” as they closed in on what was going to be a first victory in 10 matches for them, and even as the rain poured from the Galician sky, Marcelo tried to get the ball forward to the men who mattered most, most often passing to Ronaldo and Raúl.
It just wasn’t to be on that night. Estoyanoff went off to a standing ovation, being replaced by current Real Betis man Antonio Barragán, and chants of “olé” went up every time Depor completed a pass in stoppage time. It just hadn’t been Real Madrid’s night, but that wasn’t the fault of the youngster who’d just landed from Rio de Janeiro.
“Capello reacted late and poorly, as Real Madrid were already out of the match by the time Ronaldo and Marcelo came on,” was the opinion of journalist Xavier Muñoz in the following morning’s newspapers. It was the Italian who was getting it in the neck, not the debutants like Gago or Marcelo nor the disappointingly ineffective Ruud van Nistelrooy.
In the end, though, Capello stuck it out and finished the season in the dugout, winning the most improbable of league titles in the process. With Roberto Carlos still in the squad, even if he wasn’t at his healthiest, Marcelo only managed five more games that LaLiga season, but he did finish the year as a champion of Spain. Of course, Marcelo has gone on to even greater things since then. And it all started on that rainy night in Galicia.