Monday, May 23

Marta Vieira da Silva, the queen of football

THE FIRST WITNESSES of his talent were the children of his people. But no one wanted her in those little matches in the wastelands of Dois Riachos, a town of 11,000 inhabitants located in the Brazilian state of Alagoas. The kids ignored their goals. Doña Tereza discovered with horror that, instead of going to school, her little daughter dedicated her hours to soccer. And her male brothers locked her at home to get her away from the ball.

Her gymnastics teacher and discoverer, Julio de Freitas, Tota, recalls that “nobody accepted that a girl ran after the ball among children. They were stronger, but still she stood out. ” A trainer once threatened to withdraw his team from a children’s championship if the calf kept playing. She endured being called a tomboy, she fought with her family, who saw this abnormal… Marta Vieira da Silva was a stubborn child. That intruder transformed ostracism into motivation, anger into triumphs. She has been elected six times by FIFA Best Soccer Player in the World. She is the top scorer for the Brazilian team and the World Cups. Now he plays fifth in France with 33 years.

Vieira was born in 1986 in a house with a tin roof. The biographies of many footballers have echoes of Dickens. They began to rally barefoot, they made an effort because they saw in the ball a way to get their people out of misery. But she faced another obstacle, gender. Soccer was not for girls. “One day he asked me for a real to buy a ball, and I told him: ‘You are a woman, Marta!”, Says his mother in You are a woman, Marta !, the biography in which Diego Graciano narrates all those details from his childhood.

The Atlético MG players show a photo of Marta Vieira.
The Atlético MG players show a photo of Marta Vieira.

Unknown outside the soccer galaxy, in Brazil Marta is an idol. A national pride. The only woman who has the imprint of her feet imprinted in Maracana. The guides of the Rio de Janeiro’s mythical stadium lists many of their achievements with the tag “the best, among men and women”. “We Brazilians say that ‘She is the queen.’ He has that crown that Brazil only gave to Pele. Here there is no other King of football still, it is Pelé. AND The Queen is Marta ”, explains Daniela Alfonsi, content director of the Museo del Fútbol de São Paulo.

Former Spanish team captain Vero Boquete shared a team with Marta for three years: “Playing with her was a dream. He was my reference “

Fibrous, fragile-looking, those who know her draw a happy woman who was never afraid, who loves to train, sing, play the guitar, dance. Single, she rules out having children until she retires.

In 1895 the first match between two women’s teams was held in the United Kingdom. Precisely that year, the new sport arrived in Brazil, where decades later it became a symbol of national identity. In the 1940s and 1950s the idea was promoted that “the Brazilian people, who are mestizo people, of blacks, Indians, whites, invented their own style of playing soccer,” explains Alfonsi. In such an unequal country, the field is distinguished as an egalitarian place. But not for everyone. “I, who was born in the eighties, took time to realize that this idea of ​​a Brazil that mixes races includes blacks and the poor, but excludes women,” admits the museum’s director.

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When the modernist stadium of Pacaembú, home of the museum, was inaugurated in São Paulo in 1940, a women’s match was held, and the outraged public demanded the President, Getúlio Vargas, to prevent that exhibition of “lost women.” For nearly four decades, Brazil, like other countries, banned women from playing soccer, arguing that it caused infertility. Expelled from that public space, without clubs or tournaments, their football did not develop, although the fans looked for loopholes such as the vedetes’ matches, criminalized by a part of the press. The government lifted the veto in 1979, just seven years before the footballer was born. Although she does not present herself as a feminist, after so many years of fighting for the players to conquer their space in football, it is UN ambassador to fight sexism in sport.

Marta Vieira was very lucky, because everything in the environment was hostile to her ambitions. His sister was the only one who never criticized him. In addition to her talent, only thanks to a combination of a thousand factors could she be discovered, have the opportunity to go to the big city, to Rio, where Vasco da Gama was one of the few clubs in Brazil with a women’s team. Was 14 years old.

He had a very strong emotional charge in his backpack, and he knew how to transform it into motivation to win in life ”, says his first coach, Helena Pacheco

The distance between Dois Riachos —in the impoverished northeastern desert— and Rio de Janeiro is much greater than the 2,000 kilometers indicated on the map. “Marta was born with the obligation to dribble her most difficult adversary: ​​infant mortality, which in the eighties was (in Alagoas) 130 deaths for every 1,000 children, when the national average was 69”, she recalls columnist Xico Sá, also from the Northeast. They were years of drought, of extremely serious child malnutrition —with 3.5 million dead children—, of government abandonment. The fathers emigrated and their wives were known as the drought widows. They rarely emigrated. “The fact that she left there to be a soccer player, not for domestic service, makes her case even more rare,” emphasizes Sá.

It took him three days to get to Rio by bus. Despite the beauty of the beaches and the vastness of the metropolis, she went straight to the Vasco da Gama training center. That test was the opportunity to play for the first time in a women’s team. All the time with his head down, he only had eyes for the ball. “Her face was that of someone who is angry with life,” recalls coach Helena Pacheco, who, as soon as she saw that forward start towards the goal and shoot with her powerful left foot, understood that she was an extraordinary player. Vieira took advantage of the opportunity, although at first she used to escape at night to the bars of Rio de Janeiro with a friend to dance. I was discovering a new world.

Marta plays with a ball in Maracana in 2018.
Marta plays with a ball in Maracana in 2018. Getty Images
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“He had a very strong emotional charge in his backpack. She was a girl who came from afar, from a difficult reality, in search of the golden opportunity. She knew how to transform that anger into motivation to win in life, “says Pacheco, who signed her immediately. When signing the contract, the little girl only asked for one thing: that her first money go to Doña Tereza. “Mom raised me, she fought hard, she did it all. He stayed at home when my father left us, “he said in the aforementioned biography, which he finally did not authorize. The book can only be obtained as a loan at the Central Library of São Paulo.

With the 10 that Pelé and Zico also wore, she has been the undisputed leader of the canarinha for years. Although he will hardly achieve in the remainder of his amazing career the two titles that have always eluded him: the World Cup and an Olympic gold. She was runner-up in the World Cup in 2007 and silver at the 2004 Athens Games and the 2008 Beijing Games. “She is a crack, an extraordinary one. Marta is always in the right place at the right time. And when you expect him to do the right thing, he does extraordinary things, like Pelé or Maradona, ”explains René Simões, his coach in Athens.

Marta was born with the obligation to dribble her most difficult adversary: ​​infant mortality “, according to columnist Xico Sá

Getting to the big city meant starting to play without being insulted and getting paid, but it was all very precarious. After playing with the U-17 team, he was left without a team when Vasco da Gama eliminated the women’s team due to financial problems. “She was devastated. He thought it could be the end of a career that hadn’t even started, ”recalls his first coach. He cried a lot, but it was clear to him that he would not return to his town. Marta and the Brazilian soccer players of her generation —Formiga, Cristiane, Pretinha… – were forged thanks to the efforts of many women and some men in heroic isolated initiatives.

They told him about a fan club in Belo Horizonte that played on a dirt field, the Santa Cruz. “The team was mine, I trained them, I looked for an apartment … I only used the name of Santa Cruz,” explains pioneer Vera Lucía Pereda. The president of the club, Claudio Henrique Soares, remembers that Marta arrived with torn flip-flops, the many triumphs she gave them and the fax of her first call-up in the national team. No one who knew her as a teenager remembers her going to school.

Marta takes a selfie with Cristiano Ronaldo in 2015.
Marta takes a selfie with Cristiano Ronaldo in 2015. AFP

“She was always determined, she was never afraid, she always knew that what she does best is play soccer,” says Sabrina Fonseca, a friend of the star since those days and president of a youth men’s club. The Fonseca family welcomed her into their home one year when, again, she was left without equipment, and without accommodation.

Her life changed thanks to the round of 16 of the 2003 World Cup. Brazil lost to Sweden – one of the most egalitarian countries that values ​​women’s football the most – but their game captivated the president of Umea, who was in the audience. Sweden was the antipode of Brazil. But he also passed that test with flying colors. Vero Boquete, former captain of the Spanish team, shared a team with Vieira for three years. “Playing with her was a dream, she was my reference.” He knows her well as a partner and as an adversary. “Playing with her is lucky, but as a rival it is also an extra motivation. Intimidating, it makes you have to be 100% ”. Adapting to Sweden was difficult, but there was structure there, clubs, tournaments, fans … She grew as a player in the eight years she spent there, until she became the star that she is. After obtaining nationality and learning the language, he does not rule out settling in Sweden when he retires. Although, at the moment, he lives in the United States. Like Boquete. The Brazilian plays for Pride in Orlando (Florida); the Spanish, in the Utah Royals of Salt Lake City.

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While Brazilian soccer players dream of playing abroad, they want to play at home. “Marta is a symbol and gives a lot of visibility to women’s football, but Brazil did not know how to take advantage of her legacy to enhance it,” says her first coach. Even Vieira herself lights up when she criticizes the enormous disinterest of her compatriots in the matches and triumphs of the soccer players.

Marta during a match with the Brazil team in March.
Marta during a match with the Brazil team in March.

Now that even the Vatican has launched a women’s soccer team, it has received a strong push in Brazil. The Brazilian confederation and the South American Conmebol oblige all first-class (men’s) teams to have a women’s team, which gives a hitherto unknown stability to the sport. It is a revolution for those aspiring to be the next Marta, Cristiane or Formiga. Thanks to that, the Atlético Mineiro players they are professionals. They play in conditions that a few months ago they didn’t even dream of. Most started kicking the ball in the favela where they grew up. They played in an amateur team that the Belo Horizonte team adopted to comply with the new regulations. They charge the minimum wage, they have health insurance, a doctor, a nutritionist, a psychologist, a physiotherapist … But not those who applaud their plays, although the games are free. Nina de Abreu, team coordinator, says that they have begun “to play games in country clubs to get the families used to it.” They also have hope in Globo, the powerful television channel, which broadcasts the Women’s World Cup for the first time (although it is not the best year, because the team has chained a good handful of defeats). These young women would give an arm to have an audience like the one that begins to fill stadiums in Spain.

The discipline and leadership coach bellows painful truths to Atlético Mineiro players just before the last sit-ups. “Start teaching your worth! I have a 350-kilometer line out there to wear this shirt! ” It’s not easy that there are exceptional female talents out there like Marta’s. But if there are, in Brazil they will still need luck to be discovered and succeed.

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