COPA90 teamed up with Budweiser to fly to Madrid and sit down with legendary defender, Marcelo. From the beaches of Botafogo to Galáctico and Brazilian icon, this is his story.
It’s a typically sunny day in Madrid. Light glistens through from two large windowpanes as we get comfortable on a crisp white sofa. We find ourselves in Marcelo’s living room. It’s very spacious, decorated with a row of family photos, a black marble fireplace and a sleek, wall-mounted flat screen.
He’s in an upbeat mood. He usually is. “You have already been to the best spot in Madrid – my house!” he jokes. Marcelo has called Spain’s capital home for the past 13 years now, ever since moving from his native Brazil aged 18.
Brazil is a country synonymous with joy. Everything is done in the pursuit of pleasure: carnivals, gastronomy, art and, most commonly, football.
Football is symbolic of Brazilian culture. Matches are as much about enjoyment as they are winning. It’s a form of expression; playing with a certain flair and style that fans can relate to on a deeper level. Every game, from a casual kickabout to representing the national side, is undertaken with the same insatiable enthusiasm.
Both scenarios are familiar to Marcelo. The left-back’s place in the pantheon of Brazilian greats has been cemented for some time, but it wasn’t so long ago that he was gracing Botafogo Beach, ball in hand, as a fresh-faced kid.
Back then, joy was the only currency Marcelo traded in. “I remember starting out on Botafogo Beach when I was five or six years old,” he says. “Life rotated around soccer and the beach.” After persuading his older brother he was talented enough to join in, Marcelo was eventually invited to play alongside him and his friends.
“In life we face obstacles, but we learn to overcome them.”
Marcelo on proving people wrong
Every time Marcelo felt the warm golden sand between his toes, there was only one superstar he sought to emulate: Roberto Carlos. Unlike in England, where, as Jamie Carragher famously once put it, “no one grows up wanting to be a Gary Neville,” Brazilian full-backs have been revered for generations.
Ever since the 1958 World Cup – when O Seleção deviated from the then-conventional W-M formation and gave their full-backs creative license to roam – Brazil’s flanks have been blessed with skill, panache and attacking intent, much to the delight of its natives.
Roberto Carlos may have been the player Marcelo idolised most, but he wasn’t the main hero throughout his childhood – that was Pedro, his grandfather.
“He’s always been my inspiration,” Marcelo explains. “He supported me through everything so I could become a footballer. When I was four years old he used to take me to a cemented area so I could play ball. Ever since I was four he told himself I would become a footballer.”
“He helped me by talking to me and encouraging me a lot. Even when I played poorly he always stood by me and continued to support me.”
Marcelo on his grandfather’s influence
Unlike Marcelo’s mother and teachers, who regularly stressed the importance of a good education to him, Pedro was convinced his grandson had what it took to turn pro. Pedro had been a competent player himself, and set up a local futsal side to help oversee Marcelo’s development.
It wasn’t long before Marcelo was attracting interest from regional giants Fluminense, and he duly signed for the club aged 13, making the long trip to their training ground in Xerém on a daily basis.
His family weren’t exactly wealthy, and the bus fare was expensive, costing 13 reais a day there and back. Unsurprisingly, Pedro stepped in and offered to help, taking on a second job so he could support Marcelo financially and accompany him on the commute.
“The bus line was 410,” Marcelo recalls. “It stopped on my mother’s street. I remember it was red and had a picture of Christ the Redeemer across the side.
“My grandfather lived near Flamengo Beach while my mum lived a little closer to where I trained. So my grandfather used to call and say: ‘’I’m leaving home now’. I’d wait for him at the bus stop to look and see if he waved from the window, then I’d hop on the same bus and go to practice.”
Eventually, Pedro saved up enough to purchase a VW Volkswagen Beetle so he could drive Marcelo to training. Those bus and car journeys are some of Marcelo’s fondest childhood memories – he even has a tattoo on his right arm of his grandfather’s Beetle, with Rio’s Christ the Redeemer inked proudly behind it.
“It’s a car with beautiful stories,” he smiles. “It has a lot of history. My grandfather taught me how to drive in this car. It took me to training sessions, to watch my brother’s games, to family parties…it took me everywhere.”
The sacrifices Pedro made eventually paid off. In 2005, Marcelo made his senior debut for Fluminense and, one year later, was signed to Real Madrid. It could have all been so different, though.
A few weeks prior, Marcelo had agreed a deal in principle to join Sevilla. Upon learning of Los Blancos’ interest however, he made a swift U-turn on his decision. As Sevilla’s sporting director, Monchi, put it: “Marcelo came on a plane to sign for Sevilla and got off in Madrid.”
As soon as the defender realised he was coveted by Real, his mind was made up. Not only was football’s largest behemoth knocking at his door, but it was also home to his childhood idol, Roberto Carlos.
“He is the best full-back in the world and has more ability and quality than me.”
Roberto Carlos on Marcelo’s talent
Such success before leaving his adolescence didn’t come without jealousy. “There was a lot of envy from people who wanted to be in my place,” he explains. “People don’t want you to succeed, or see your family do well.”
Upon his arrival, Real had planned to loan their latest recruit out in order for him to gain some valuable experience and acclimatise to a new league. Marcelo was having none of it. “I said no because I knew one day I’d become an important player for the team.”
Respecting his wishes, club president Florentino Pérez agreed to let him stay as Marcelo started to learn his craft from Carlos in training, under the tutelage of Italian coach Fabio Capello. “Even though I didn’t play much and was often left off the squad list, I learned a lot from that time.”
Marcelo’s story from here out is well-documented. Pedro passed away in 2014, but not before seeing his grandson pull on the iconic yellow shirt of Brazil, play at a World Cup and score in the Champions League final past city rivals Atlético, in turn helping Real secure La Décima.
For all of Pedro’s commitment and sacrifice, one piece of advice remains seared into Marcelo’s memory to this day: “Regardless of what happens, you have to strive to be happy.”
After all, for Marcelo and millions of other Brazilians, football is nothing without joy.