With 5 goals and 5 assists in just 9 appearances, Marcelo Leite Pereira or Marcelinho, as he is known as, has taken the Indian Super League by storm. A versatile Brazilian attacker capable of slotting in seamlessly in wide areas as well as up front, the 29-year-old’s contribution has been immense in helping Delhi Dynamos cement their position in the top half of the 2016 ISL table. Being born in Rio de Janeiro, football was something which he was introduced to since a very young age and today we talk about his journey. In an interview with The Indian Express, he talks about how he played for 12 different clubs across the globe and also just how competitive ISL is compared to other leagues around the world.
Out of all the positions that exist on the football field, how did you come to the conclusion that you wanted to play as a winger professionally?
Since the very beginning, when I started playing football, I was much more attracted to the offensive side of the game. I always desired to be quick and fast and worked on those aspects more than anything else.
As I developed my game, wing play allowed me to easily track back and defend whenever required. This freedom helped me switch from defense to attack, especially on the counter, which I have always felt was the biggest quality that I provided my team, wherever I played.
As a youngster, when you started your career at Flamenco, was there any player who you looked up to as an idol or as someone whose game you wanted to adopt whilst trying to establish your own identity?
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In the first 10 years of my football career, when I played at Flamenco, there was no one in particular who I looked up to. There was so much talent within the club that I tried to learn something or the other from every other offensive player who was part of the team.
But having said that, in today’s time, I look up to Neymar. I think he has too much quality within him, and just like every young aspiring footballer in Brazil, even I want to try and play like him because I feel he is the top most player in the world at the moment, when we talk about the offensive side of the game.
At age 29, you have played football professionally across different continents spanning from Europe, where you played in Greece with Skoda Xanthi to the Baniyas in the UAE before finally joining the Delhi Dynamos here in India.Can you tell us the basic differences that exist in terms of style of football that is played in different continents, particularly when compared to India?
The style of football hugely differs as you travel across to different continents. In Greece and Italy, there is too much of tactical involvement in the game with a defensive mindset. A strong foundation from the back is the founding pillar on the basis of which the team is then organized going forward. One has to be intelligent in their position, and play for the team so that the approach adopted by the manager is executed rather than trying to concentrate on one’s individual game. At the end, the tactical approach adopted by the coach needs to be maintained.
Whereas in India and Emirates, there is more allowance in terms of freedom for one to show their individual talent in the game. In these countries, everyone in the team expect the foreign players to take charge over the team and help the other youngsters at the club. It is also understood that the best play in the game will come through these very foreign players, and they will have a major hand in helping the team get across the line.
I am trying to do the same here at Delhi Dynamos, and use my complete experience to help the other players increase their quality of play as the tournament progresses.
Talking on the issue of having played across different continents, can you tell us which country has been the easiest to adapt too and which country has been the most difficult?
In terms of the easiest and the most special country that I have played in, it would have to be Greece. The European nation is very close to me because I made my family there, which was the reason why I stayed there for 5 years.
Except for that, whilst playing for Catania in Serie A, it was a difficult time initially as I had to get used to the language that was spoken there along with the high level of competitiveness that Italian football provided.
But right now, after having taken in all the varied experiences from all across the globe, I think the best moment of my career has come here in India, because I have been scoring in the games, which as a result has made me satisfied and happy. Yes, Italy was more difficult to adapt too as compared to Greece or India, but everywhere I have gone, I have taken back something special which has helped me develop as a better player each time.
Having travelled across the world, which cuisine has appealed you the most and what has been your staple diet which you have tried and maintained all throughout your career no matter where you have gone and played?
I love my food, due to which I have easily been able to adapt to the different cuisines and in the process fall in love with one or another particular dish from each different country that I have played in. For example, In Greece, fish is the best whereas in Italy, you can’t help but fall in love with the Pasta. My home nation has always provided me with the best meat.
In India, it’s been a slightly different experience as there is too much spice which is used in the food. What has made things slightly more complicated is the fact I fell in love with all the different type of sweets that the country provides, something which I can’t have too often because of the professional demands.
What has helped me during my journey is the fact that I have always developed a liking towards dishes which have been healthy and nutritious, due to which although my staple diet has varied, it hasn’t been a difficulty to maintain. One thing that I always focus on is to have vegetables with each meal as they help provide the right amount of nutrients that are required by the body.
With you having played in 12 different clubs across different parts of the world, at just the age of 29, it’s safe to say that you have experienced the difficult side of football. Looking back, can you tell us the most difficult situations you have come across, and how you have been able to overcome them?
I think every footballer is accustomed to go through difficult situations in their careers. Let it be injuries suffered along the way, or trying to live up to the expectations that the management and the loyal fans develop when you sign for their club.
Being born and brought up in Brazil, its difficult right from the beginning as everyone has talent over there. That is why, right from the onset I believed in the philosophy that difficult situations thrown at someone, makes them stronger. With this thought always in the back of my mind, overcoming difficulties wasn’t difficult at all. One such example I can recall is the weather when it came to Greece. It was just too cold for my liking and took me a couple of months to get adjusted.
Changing your mindset and concentrating on the game should be one’s top priority. Once your wages are sorted out, nothing should come close to getting the better of you. Everything else is secondary. Football is priority.
You played 4 years with Skoda Xanthi in Greece, by far the longest you have played at any club. Can you tell us about the life in Greece and how competitive Superleague Greece is, if we have to compare it to the ISL here in India?
The Superleague Greece is very competitive because you get to play against teams who have gone onto play in the UEFA Champions League and the Europa League, such as Olympiakos, PAOK, AEK and Panathaniakos.
Along with these difficult teams, there are other teams who don’t have as much quality in their squad. That is why, when competing in this league, you need to make it a point to be able to beat these medium quality teams, and try and not lose to the good teams.
European experience is very important for any club, in order for them to progress and further establish themselves. It also helps you attract the best of players if you can offer European experience along with domestic football. The Superleague helps provide such a platform.
Whereas the ISL helps provide a different level of competition, where your foreign players are expected to take charge of the team and help the youngsters further develop their game. Why, I like it too much here because I am fast, I like to play with space and the fields are very big here both length as well as breadth. This helps give me the opportunity to exploit the best of my skills and dribbling abilities.
Another plus point of playing in India is the fact that you get to play in front of loyal passionate supporters. They get behind the team and show their support with a large representation during the games. This is something which keeps me motivated to carry on performing and giving the best of my abilities to the team.
For budding young Indian footballers, who are trying to make it big and get a chance to create a name for themselves, do you have a tip or word of advice that they should keep in mind as they look to begin their professional careers?
I think what one should always keep in mind is the fact that they need to put in the hours during training. They need to slog it out during the practice sessions where various kinds of drills are performed, every morning and evening, that help enhance ones play.
I see good Indian players coming up who have the potential, but they need to keep at it and always be focused to continue improving and constantly learn, especially from the foreign and the experienced players that are playing alongside them here in the ISL. One thing that I can 100% guarantee is that in the next 2-3 seasons, teams from Europe will definitely come and buy players here from India. ISL has helped develop the game in the country and every year it’s getting more and more competitive.
After the 2016 ISL season with Delhi Dynamos draws to a close, where can one expect Marcelo Leite Pereira to be playing next in his career?
Delhi Dynamos opened the door for me here in India, I am very thankful. My top priority at the moment is to concentrate on the remaining 6 games in the ISL. One thing I am very clear is that I will give Delhi Dymanos first priority coming into next season. Nobody knows what will happen, but I want to carry on playing with them and keep helping the young players further develop their game as well. I want to win the ISL championship with this team. That is my goal.
(Rohan Shukla is an intern with The Indian Express)