Brazil and their footballers have had an impact on the sport like no other. The country has provided some of the best players in the world for generations, dazzling spectators and pundits alike with their now-famous ginga; a traditional Brazilian fighting dance that made its way into the footballing lexicon. Most of the country’s greatest players have had humble beginnings before working their way up to the grandest of Fifa galas in the world.
Six-time Fifa World Player of the Year Marta follows in those legendary footsteps.
Her tale is a lot different than the Peles, Romarios, Ronaldos, Ronaldinhos. Marta battled through a difficult upbringing, moved away from home in her early teens, and never looked back. Having shattered records for fun over for close to two decades in the women’s game, the fleet-footed forward is widely seen as the greatest to have played the sport.
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The 34-year-old has plied her trade across continents, with stints in Brazil, USA and Sweden, where she was recently awarded citizenship in 2017.
Marta strengths are her dribbling, quick-thinking and orchestrating a move. Watch some of her best moments on video and you’d realise how the Dios Riachos-native was two steps ahead of her opponents.
While she could play a number of positions up front, Marta thrived on playing on the toes of the striker, spraying key passes while bringing players into the game, and applying the finishing touches. Of course, she was an outstanding dead-ball exponent too, earning the rather condescending moniker of “Pele in skirts” early into her international career.
“Growing up in a small town like Dois Riachos, you stood out. But not for your talent. No, you got weird looks and mean comments every day just because you were a girl. A girl who loved football,” Marta reflected on her journey three years ago on The Players Tribune.
“Why would God give me this talent, if no one wants me to play?
“Fight against their prejudice. Fight against the lack of support. Fight against it all – the boys, the people who say you can’t. Fight. Fight to be accepted. Because we both know it only takes one person to change things.”
Marta was at the forefront of that change. It was no longer the male footballers alone who brought in crowds to the stadiums. Televised women’s matches had fans sit in front of their TV screens just to get a glimpse of what she could do with the ball at her feet.
Alas, it is a shame that Marta could not win the big international prizes, especially the World Cup – an arena that no other country have left a lasting impact as much as Brazil. As a 21-year-old, she was at the heart of her country reaching the final in 2007, masterminding the quarter-final thriller against Australia and the 4-0 rout of USA in the semi-finals.
The final against Germany, however ended on a sobering note with Marta having her penalty saved in the second half. A goal would have levelled scores and Germany went on to become champions by a 2-0 margin. Nonetheless, she walked away with the Golden Ball and the Golden Boot.
The following year, Marta’s Brazil were upstaged by USA in the final of the Beijing Olympics. The mighty Americans also emerged victors in the classic 2011 World Cup quarter-final, another event where Marta was at her sublime best. Her masterclass against Norway makes a worthy shout for one of the greatest World Cup performances. She scored two goals and set up another. Her opponents stood dazed in bewilderment.
Marta has recorded more than a century of goals wearing the iconic gold and blue jersey and is the top-scorer in World Cup history, male or female, with 17 goals. She remains the only player to have scored in five editions of the big-ticket event.
Marta’s contributions wasn’t restricted to a football field alone. An eloquent spokesperson and a natural leader, her rallying cry in a TV interview after Brazil were knocked out by France in the round of 16 became somewhat of an sensation.
Marta, along with fellow legends Cristiane and Formiga, were the pillars around which the Brazilian team built their success for nearly fifteen years. The time had come for them to pass the baton.
Her passionate speech was a reminder to young girls in Brazil of the sweat and toil that went in putting women’s football on the world map. “The future of women’s football is depending on you to survive,” Marta told the TV cameras. “There won’t be a Marta for ever. Think about what I’m saying.”
Marta has also had to grapple with the sniggers surrounding her appearance while playing. She explains: “For me, it represents the power of a woman. We are playing a sport that is very aggressive, very strong. Therefore, for a lot of people, it’s still very masculine,” Marta told The Telegraph. But I feel that when I wear the lipstick, we can show our feminine side with it. The lipstick became something powerful.”
There is little doubt that Marta inspired millions of kids to take up the sport. The doubts are even fewer when it comes down to a GOAT (Greatest of all times) debate in women’s football – like Pele, she will be remembered for generations to come.
Watch some of Marta’a best skills here: