Marcelinho: the maverick Brazilian who lit up the Bundesliga

Marcelinho: the maverick Brazilian who lit up the Bundesliga

From Theresa May triggering Article 50 to Donald Trump’s Twitter exchange with Arnold Schwarzenegger, March 2017 was certainly an action-packed month. In football, Chelsea maintained their 10-point advantage over Tottenham at the top of the Premier League, while Barcelona staged their improbable comeback over Paris Saint-Germain. With all that going, you could be forgiven for missing a testimonial match held in Berlin, honouring a 41-year-old Brazilian with bleached blonde hair.

Marcelo dos Santos, better known at home as Marcelinho Paraíba or simply Marcelinho, was a trademark number 10. Possessing all the technical brilliance associated with those hailing from Brazil, his stock-in-trade were remarkable close control, an array of trickery and dead-ball accuracy. During these five years in the German capital, he became an idol to fans through a mix of his talent and colourful off-field lifestyle.

The move to Germany was not his first European escapade. After three successful seasons at São Paulo, where he helped the side win two state championships, he moved in 2000 to Marseille. Despite scoring in two of his opening three games, he failed to settle in France, not learning a single word of the language and returning to Brazil after just six months. His true breakthrough came back home with Grêmio. In six months he won both the Campeonato Gaúcho and Copa do Brasil, prompting a £7.5m to Hertha Berlin.

In order to avoid a repeat of what happened in Marseille, throughout his time in the capital, Marcelinho had a group of family and friends over to stay in Berlin. This group numbered eight to 10 people and resided in three rented apartments, affording the Brazilian home comforts. Despite many reported incidents, it was such activities that allowed Marcelinho to feel settled and thus succeed back in Europe.

In the pre-season Ligapokal, Marcelinho scored on his debut in the preliminary game against Bayer Leverkusen, along with another in a 4-1 demolition of Schalke in the final. This helped Hertha secure their first trophy since a second tier title in 1990. He carried this form into the Bundesliga, scoring in just his third game against Energie Cottbus and going on to net an impressive 13 times in his first season in Germany. A brace was scored in a 5-1 demolition of high flying Kaiserslautern, along with five assists as Hertha finished fourth.

Such form piqued the interest of Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who selected Marcelinho for five World Cup qualifying games in that year. In doing so, he became the first player from the state of Paraíba to both play and score for Brazil, cementing his place as a local hero. He netted his sole goal on his debut, a 2-0 victory over Paraguay, in August 2001. Unfortunately he was overlooked for the final squad for the 2002 World Cup, owing to an incident described by the player as the worst mistake of his life.

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Scolari had told him – thanks to his fine form – that he was a certainty to be on the plane to Japan and South Korea. This was until a drink driving incident in March 2002, when he was caught speeding over the limit without a seatbelt on or even possessing a valid driving licence. Forced to spend the night in jail, the following morning the notoriously strict Scolari called, asking the player to explain himself. Whilst he did so, Marcelinho was never selected for his country again.

This omission did, however, allow for him to play a starring role as Hertha retained the Ligapokal, still their most recent major honour. Once again, they defeated Schalke 4-1 in the final, with Marcelinho this time scoring twice, alongside another goal and assist in the preliminary match against Bayern Munich. In the league he was able to better his stats, with 14 goals and nine assists as Hertha ended in fifth leading to another UEFA Cup qualification.

To address Marcelinho’s time in Germany merely as high numbers and regular European participation is an over-simplification. Throughout his career in Berlin, he was frequently fined for his night-time antics. Alongside the Brazil case, another notorious incident occurred in March 2003, where he went out the night before a 1-0 loss to Hamburg. Hertha directors got wind of their star’s activity, going to the bar in order to remove the player and subsequently fining him 20,000.

Unlike most players, though, this was a sacrifice Marcelinho was prepared to accept, and they didn’t alter his commitment to Hertha. He viewed it as more of a business relationship, prepared to pay in order to enjoy his lavish lifestyle. Meanwhile, the club’s board tolerated such behaviour due to his huge importance to the team. Marcelinho spent most Sundays partying, often overrunning into the early hours of Monday. Despite regularly going to bed at 5am, he defied the medical staff’s logic by still being the fastest runner in training the next morning.

With the Hertha team enjoying one of the finest periods of consistency in their history, his partying was a particular issue for European away matches, where the team would often fly out on Monday afternoons. Former teammate Andreas Neuendorf recalls how such trips would involve Marcelinho frequently being hungover, with the smell of alcohol sometimes lingering throughout the plane.

Fines were also incurred for his behaviour over both the Christmas and summer breaks, from which he would nearly always return late. He cited the reason for this earlier this year to 11Freunde as the weather. “One thinks only one more day of sun. And then another. And then another. And then you’re right back in the middle of the mess.”

Regardless of his lack of punctuality, the player did not use this as an excuse to avoid training. Marcelinho kept himself in shape during these unauthorised absences, maintaining his fitness to allow for an immediate impact upon his return, another reason why it was allowed to let slide.

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To frame the player as a self-centred party animal, though, is unfair, an image the player feels was exaggerated by journalists. He was a down-to-earth individual, who stayed true to his roots by retaining friends he’d grown up with. Using the wealth he had accumulated through football, he purchased cars and properties for them, alongside helping his local community. One of his close friends once described him as “a gift from God”.

Some cynically viewed this group as a detriment, encouraging the player to party and landing him in financial difficulties. Without their presence in Berlin, though, there is little doubt Marcelinho would have reached such great heights in Germany.

Another key part in the harmonious relationship was Hertha vice-president Dieter Hoeneß, who served to protect the Brazilian from much of the negative press. One such incident occurred in 2005, when Marcelinho took the decision to buy a nightclub, only to change his mind and get Hoeneß to dissolve the contract. So close was their relationship, the Brazilian ironically received a watch when he left the club, bringing into question the negative stereotype of German humour.

The 2004/05 season was arguably Marcelinho’s finest in Germany, with a remarkable 18 goals and 13 assists inspiring Hertha to a fourth-place finish. In November he scored a hat-trick in a 3-2 win at Wolfsburg, with the pick of the goals being the decider; a run from the half-way line where he rounded Simon Jentzsch and fired in from a tight angle. In December he scored a Panenka penalty alongside recording two assists in a 6-0 demolition of Borussia Mönchengladbach. There were also two very good goals involving his fine footwork away at Leverkusen, along with two more braces at home to Schalke and Freiburg.

The latter match featured arguably the most memorable of Marcelino’s 79 goals for Hertha. Prior to the game he had told his teammates to give him the ball at every opportunity, as he was sure he could catch out Freiburg goalkeeper Richard Golz, who had a tendency to advance out of his box. Sure enough, in only the sixth minute, the Brazilian received the ball in the centre circle and, after taking one quick glance, proceeded to swing back his left foot. The resulting shot started outside the goal, curling back inside the post to deceive Golz and dropping into his empty net.

At the end of the campaign, he was voted into the Team of the Season for a second time, although this time as the player most frequently nominated. He featured 12 times in the Bundesliga Team of the Week, and won the most votes from fellow professionals in the Player of the Season award. Unfortunately, a landslide of media votes tipped the balance in favour of Bayern’s Michael Ballack. One award he did receive, however, at the end of 2005, was Athlete of the Year in the Berlin Sportsperson Awards. Even today, in the event’s 39-year history, he is the sole non-German winner.

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Perhaps this recognition is more fitting, with the player revered in the capital as a Hertha icon. In 2003 he was voted into the Hertha Team of the Century, a squad composed as part of the club’s 111th birthday celebrations. To be considered amongst the greatest in club history after just three seasons shows you how highly Hertha fans regard Marcelinho. Despite this, the nature of his departure was unfortunate. After another stellar campaign in 2005/06, with double figures for goals and assists, the club finally grew tired of his prolonged absences.

Marcelinho returned from Brazil 11 days late for pre-season, citing ongoing maintenance of the airport’s runway. The reception of this, however, was more serious than usual, attributed to manager Falko Götz, and it was quickly agreed it would be best if the two parted ways. This led to offers from CSKA Moscow, Espanyol and Olympiacos, although following consultation with Turkish teammate Yıldıray Baştürk, Marcelinho decided to go ahead with a £2.5m move to Trabzonspor.

Despite receiving the typically passionate airport arrival gifted out by Turkish fans, the Brazilian failed to adapt to life in the Black Sea city. He was left confused by the fan culture, commenting how people would still be angry if the team had won 1-0, which he simply could not understand. Following just two goals in 17 games and after only six months away, Marcelinho sought refuge back in Germany.

This time he ended up at Wolfsburg, persuaded to join by Felix Magath. He proceeded to continue where he left off at Hertha, with five goals and eight assists in the second half of the season as he proved instrumental in helping the Saxony side avoid relegation. He maintained his impeccable standards the following campaign as captain, with seven goals and 10 assists playing a key part in pushing Die Wölfe into fifth place. For his endeavours, he was again awarded a place in the Kicker Team of the Season, the third and final such nomination of his career.

In the summer of 2009, Marcelinho decided to move back to Brazil. Initially he signed for Flamengo, although encountered problems with delayed wages and quickly terminated his contract. Moving on to Coritiba in the club’s centenary year, in his first season he hit 14 league goals, although was unable to prevent the side being relegated. This prompted a move back to São Paulo, although he was not up to standards physically, being loaned to second division Sport Recife soon after.

He helped Sport regain promotion to the Brasileirão in 2011 before embarking on a journeyman career around the lower leagues. These included a spell back in Série A in 2015 with Joinville where, even at the age of 38, he finished as the club’s second highest scorer, and a return to his first ever club Campinense. As of today, the 43-year-old remains active at fourth division Treze, representing a dying breed of footballer who simply plays for the love of the sport.

The return to Hertha in March 2017 attracted over 27,000 nostalgic fans through the Olympiastadion turnstiles. It was a testament to his timeless influence. He is remembered not only as one of the finest players to have ever pulled on the blue and white of Die Alte Dame, but also one of the best playmakers of his generation in the Bundesliga.

By James Kelly @jkell403

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