Monday 15 August 2016, 21:52

Brazil, meet Marquinhos

Marquinhos quickly became a crowd favourite in the short amount of time he spent at Roma, and despite being surrounded by a host of big names, it hasn’t taken long for the young Brazilian central defender to become one of the idols of the Paris Saint-Germain fans. Now, aged just 22, it is time to make the journey back home and introduce himself properly to the Brazilian supporters he left behind when he moved to Europe four years ago, before he had even established himself as a regular at Corinthians.

One way of doing that is through the magic of TV, with the matches of the French giants being broadcast around the world. Another is by establishing himself a key member of the Brazil team at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016, and finally performing at some of the country’s biggest stadiums, like on Saturday, when he starred in the 2-0 win over Colombia at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo, a ground he had never even visited before. At the time of his surprise move to Roma in 2012, the stadium had not even been built yet.

It was a special way to make his debut appearance at the stadium on his return to an area that he knows – or knew – so well. Marquinhos told about the three years he spent living in the Itaquera neighbourhood, where the Corinthians youth facilities were located.

“I’d never been to the stadium before, not even as a fan. I lived here when the youth-team facilities were in Itaquera. We trained and played matches in the area. I spent ten years of my life here,” he said.  “I tell people that I don’t recognise it now, because it was totally different back then. There was just the metro station and the bridge linking it to the hill where our training ground was. Today you can see what it’s become. It’s great to be back.”

Marquinhos was able to experience a curious sensation during the win against Colombia. If he closed his eyes for a moment, he could listen to the fans and imagine that he was playing for Corinthians again. The presence of the club’s supporters was audible, with chants of “Timão” echoing around the ground.

“It gave me goosebumps. I spent ten years here. I owe such a lot to those who worked with me and helped me. Even though I was here for only a short time as a professional, the fans remember me. They often shout “Vai, Corinthians” (“Come on, Corinthians”) at me.”

The dream for me, the team and the fans, is to be champions.

It is worth remembering that after starring for Brazil in the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011, Marquinhos barely played in his country’s main club competitions, appearing in just 14 games for Corinthians in 2012. Now, as much as he has enjoyed spending time with the club’s so-called “Crazy Gang” of supporters again, the Olympics represent a chance to reintroduce himself to fans all over Brazil.

Although the young defender has already represented the senior Brazil side on a number of occasions, his time on the pitch has been limited – hardly surprising, given his age. And, just like at PSG, he has had to battle with players of the calibre of Thiago Silva and David Luiz for a place.

“I have a lot of responsibility here because of the time I’ve spent with the Seleção and because I play in Europe, and I accept that. I know Brazil boss Tite is watching the games. It’s all about trying to earn my place,” he said. “The opportunities will come, and I have to make the most of them. The dream for me, the team and the fans, is to be champions.”

So far the almost-debutant has been impeccable. Despite an attacking formation that features four men up front, Brazil have not conceded a goal in their first four games. As well as the team has defended as a unit, however, much of the credit for such solidity must go to the pairing at centre-back, where Marquinhos has been ably assisted by Sao Paulo’s Rodrigo Caio. While the two are not the most physically imposing defenders, what they lack in muscles, they make up for in speed and technique.

“Our partnership is working really well. We’re defenders who help each other out a lot, and we both trust each other completely. This makes a huge difference: we enjoy playing together and we’re fast enough to cover the spaces and provide a solid base for the team’s attacking style of play,” he said.

“It’s inevitable that we have to deal with counter-attacks, and so we need to be quick. I think we’re doing a good job,” said Marquinhos. At this rate, it will not take long for Brazilians to take to the defender just as quickly as European fans have.