Marcelo - Real Madrid's lifeline down the left
“He's a pearl that half of Europe wanted”, quoted former Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon. Indeed he was, and Madrid would consider themselves really grateful that they got the young Brazilian full-back.
Marcelo's talent was evident, and after appearing in close to 30 games for Fluminense, European clubs were in for the tricky wide man. Sevilla went in first and almost had a deal in place until someone told Marcelo that there might be a sniff of a chance with Real Madrid.
All the other clubs were then out of the race, it was the only place the young Brazilian wanted to go.
The early struggle
As a young player at Real Madrid, one doesn’t really have a shot at first-team glory unless there is something immediately spectacular to see. The situation is amplified when you have a certain Roberto Carlos ahead of you in your position.
Madrid wanted Marcelo to play for the Castilla first. Fabio Capello, the then Real Madrid manager, however, insisted on the Brazilian training with the first team. Opportunities in the early days were few and far, Marcelo though had no intentions of letting go of his Madrid chance.
Bernd Schuster’s introduction meant that Marcelo had plenty of opportunities to play. He did, indeed, play regularly during the 2007-08 season.
Things changed under Juande Ramos, who played Marcelo as an out an out wide midfielder on a number of occasions. Gabriel Heinze was preferred when it came to holding the “more defensive” left-back position.
Marcelo’s crossing, trickery, and his absolute technical ability, however, meant that the wide midfield position wasn’t a daunting prospect after all. The situation remained pretty much the same when Manuel Pellegrini came in. Pellegrini preferred Marcelo at left wing rather than at left-back.
Much needed consolidation
The breakthrough of Marcelo’s Real Madrid career, however, came in 2010, with the arrival of Jose Mourinho, who moved Marcelo back to the left-back position, while changing the formation to an attacking 4-2-3-1, looking to get the best out of his attacking prospects.
Los Blancos went on to score 105 times in the league, winning the Copa Del Rey that season. Marcelo, playing at left-back, proved vital and provided width down the left. His trickery and quality on the ball meant that the defenders now weren’t just thinking about Cristiano Ronaldo when trying to defend Madrid’s left side of attack.
Marcelo, as a wide outlet bobbing up and down the field meant that Ronaldo had the option of moving to the middle and play more centrally, acting as a second striker. Marcelo’s crossing often posed a threat from the left, and if it wasn’t his crossing, his ability to cut in and shoot with his right was equally unnerving.
In the following season, Marcelo got even better, as Madrid went on to win the league in 2011/12. The fullback, during the course of the season, bagged four goals and had nine assists to his name.
Since his entry into the Real Madrid fray, he had always been touted as the heir to the great Brazilian Roberto Carlos. After five years at the club, it was, perhaps, time Marcelo staked claim to the throne that had been in the offering.
Which he did, or had somewhat, started doing. Marcelo’s runs down the left, his pace and skill on the counters were a treat to watch. Despite the arrival of big money back-up Fabio Coentrao earlier that season, Marcelo maintained his level and continued to churn out performances for his club.
Competition with Coentrao
Coentrao spent five seasons with the Blancos, a good defender who perhaps did not have the same flair as his Brazilian rival within the side. The Bernabeu demands are high from each and every player,
Marcelo who’s been there since the age of eighteen, perhaps, gets it better than most of the others. Coentrao when fit, was perhaps a better defender, but was he the same “full-back package” that Marcelo is? Probably not.
Ups and downs are a part of any footballer’s life, and Marcelo had his own share of highs and lows. Criticism is another one of those inevitable things in the game, they’re bound to hit you at some point.
Marcelo, for all his attacking flair, has, from time to time, been heavily criticised for his lack of defensive awareness; for not tracking back at times, for getting into tussles he knew he shouldn’t have entered, for not enough defensive solidity and, perhaps, for not being good enough to be a defender at all.
Criticism and allegations like these have been common towards defenders, especially towards Brazilians. Brazilian defenders, be it David Luiz or Dani Alves, are known more for their flair and attacking quality than perhaps their defensive character.
Marcelo is no different. It’s this flair that makes him what he is and in a lot of ways, it’s these qualities and the flair that these players bring, that has shaped the modern-day full-back. Managers nowadays, look for fullbacks who are not just simple defenders, "attack is the best form of defence" they say, and in the modern day, it starts with wide defenders.
Secondly, in the captaincy rank for Real Madrid, Marcelo is indispensable for Real in the way they play. Not just for the player he is, but for the man he has become over the past few seasons. His will and determination to fight have been key for Madrid in all their crucial close battles over the last few seasons.
Man for the big moments
Carlo Ancelotti’s arrival in 2013 and his shift to a 4-3-3 formation with inverted forwards, meant that the width would primarily come from the full-backs. While Coentrao and Marcelo split playing during the course of the season, the Champions League final of 2014 proved why Marcelo was and still is an integral part of the team.
Coming on for Fabio Coentrao in the second half, with Real trailing a goal to local rivals Atletico Madrid, Marcelo was absolutely vital in helping the Blancos over the line. His presence on the left, and more importantly, his presence in the final third of the pitch meant that Ronaldo was in a more central role, while Di Maria had the space to make things happen on the left.
Marcelo later scored the club’s third in what was a famous 4-1 win on the night.
Indeed his presence is special for the club, especially when playing at the Santiago Bernabeu. It’s almost like the Bernabeu expects something from the left when Marcelo’s on the pitch.
Be it the assist that he provided for James when Madrid were down to 10 men, or the lively performance against Bayern Munich in a high-intensity game in the Champions League quarter-finals last season, or the crucial winner against Valencia which helped Madrid win the league last season. Marcelo is everything Zinedine Zidane wants this Madrid side to be.
Key to the Real Madrid juggernaut
Zidane’s Madrid have been at the forefront of a lot of comebacks and late goals over the last season, Marcelo has been a vital part of most of them. Marcelo has the attitude the fans want the other players to instil within themselves.
The important thing for Madrid being that Marcelo is now a captain and him being here for over a decade at the club means that he understands it better and translated it to the others.
A calmer influence than Sergio Ramos, a motivator on the pitch, with a wonderful on-the-pitch relationship with Ronaldo, Marcelo is almost, if not fully, in the league of someone like a Roberto Carlos. Who knows, perhaps there’s more to him.
Madrid were lucky to have found Marcelo around the same time when Carlos’ time at the club was about to end and would hope that they find a similar replacement for Marcelo when he is in the twilight of his career.
But till that day comes, Madrid can be assured of a lot more of bombing up and down the flanks, keeping the opposition guessing with a few stepovers, some delightful crossing, and a full-hearted Madridista.