Marcelo Vieira da Silva Junior is one of football’s most recognizable figures and such an intriguing sight. A smile and a ‘fro is what you see first, but the person and player behind are what prompted his successful career. He arrived to Real Madrid from Fluminense at the tender age of 18 years old, more than a decade ago. It surely feels like a century, because we’ve grown familiar to Marcelo owning Los Blancos’ left flank along with Cristiano.
It’s not with tiredness or boredom that we react to Marcelo’s game after all these years, but with the same smile he carries everywhere. Why? Because, despite playing at top level for so long, he keeps being a breath of fresh air. Ramón Calderón, Real Madrid’s president at the time of Marcelo’s signing, called him “Roberto Carlos heir,” as the now-retired left-back departed shortly after Marcelo arrived.
After 10 seasons of jogo bonito in the spanish capital side, and equaling his idol’s tally of 3 Champions League titles, he’s definitely lived up to those high standards. Funny thing about Marcelo, though, is that he’s a great leader. But not a traditional one. He’s not one to rule with authority and an iron first.
Marcelo leads with example in his drive to win, solidarity with his teammates, sense of responsibility, a self-imposed standard of excellence and hunger to improve game after game.
Now, I know what you’re thinking.
No, this is not a love letter to Marcelo (even though it could pass for one.)
This is a well-deserved homage to one of the best players in the world and quite possibly the best fullback. Let’s breakdown his game and find out what makes Marcelo so much more than your average player.
I know Marcelo isn’t exactly recognized for his defensive side, but he has seen immense improvement through the years in this particular aspect of his game.
Years ago, he could be considered a weak link in Madrid’s backline and a preferred target for rival teams to exploit and abuse as they wished. Back in those days, the vibrant Brazilian player already showed great footwork and an eye for attacking situations but he didn’t stop to look at the costs of his advances.
Mourinho, Ancelotti, Benitez (shortly) and Zidane were all key to spot this weakness and direct the player to pay attention, be aware of his position and step up his defensive skill set.
The outcome to assumed hours of behind-the-doors hard work and training, is one of the best all-around players in world football. You may still catch him out of position every once in a while, but now he has the ability to make up for it. Capable of dribbling past the opponent’s defence and scoring in aggregate as well as being positionally and tactically sound, Marcelo represents a standard of balance every fullback should aspire to achieve.
Real Madrid is historically known for their massive (and multiple) achievements both domestically and continentally, and for their almost exaggerated galactico signings. These two differentiating factors point out one thing; the capital side’s players are the best of the best.
While defensive players are often shadowed by the attacking stars, this is not the case at all for Marcelo. With endless trickery and lightning-fast runs, he was always destined for greatness further up the pitch, but you could feel there was more potential to develop, other details to fix.
In the same way he improved his defensive game, he also stepped up immensely in terms of decision-making and creative playmaking — enough to be one of the best performers in a team full of creators. His 12 assists and 3 goals in all competitions this season honestly understate his overall influence for Real Madrid.
Every cross (more on this later), pass or combination has a greater purpose and he often is at both ends of the attack; starting it from the back and tying it up with an assist.
Marcelo is one of those players that’s able to see things others can’t, specially attacking. While teammates are exhausted and out of ideas, he’s always there with another run, another cross, another crazy play snatched out directly out of the beaches or streets of Brazil…. and one more try to break the lock.
If there’s one thing I could go on for ages about, it’s definitely Marcelo’s crosses (weird, huh?)
The technique, creativity and the fact that they often end at the back of the net with a little help from a friend are just a few of the things to love about them. But it’s actually not what impresses me the most. His crosses stand out especially in their purposefulness, which is actually something he improved a lot in the last few seasons. Modern football fans learned to hate crosses. They’re old fashioned, they’re too mechanic, and specially they’re too wasteful.
Nowadays, we all love that Pep’s Barça style; that sexy passing style where creativity to break the lines with an unexpected pass wins in every occasion. But what we love about it, is the out-of-the-box thinking and its thoughtfulness. When you see that, you feel a certain respect for the ball, for the game, its history and fans.
What Marcelo achieved with his crosses is exactly that feeling; that same thought-driven, imaginative yet precise approach to advancing the play… and it’s beautiful. You could call him (and Dani Alves, surely) a modern crosser, one that took a dusty resource and rejuvenated it with a fresh eye and an excitingly current style.
As far as techniques and tricks go, it’s all already summed up above. But if I stopped here, I’d be leaving out what I think is Marcelo’s biggest differentiator and the gas that fuels every last detail about his game — his crazy passion. Marcelo is a happy guy, not only because he’s a superstar player, but also because he loves what he does and where he’s doing it.
Most of the time you hear him talk about Real Madrid or playing football at the top level, he looks like he can’t believe he’s getting paid for doing what he does. If that wasn’t enough indication, you only need to pay attention to him for a few minutes in the pitch. He’s cheering his teammates, pushing himself to get to that crucial ball, hyping the crowd or touching the badge when he scores as if to say I owe it all to you.
He can’t get enough of this, and neither can his teammates, his club, country or fans. That kind of passion is what allows him to step-up his defense, assist and create endless opportunities with a smile from ear to ear.
By: Dervis Cordero/@derviswrites