ISL: Why Marcelinho is the messiah Kerala Blasters need

What sets Marcelinho apart is his ability to play on either wing and also as striker

marcelinho-isl-com (File) Marcelinho | via

Ever since its inception in 2014, the Indian Super League has seen a fair share of Brazilian joga bonito. From World Cup-winning legends like Roberto Carlos to Lucio, to promising players like Elano Blumer, Raphael Augusto, the Brazilians have left their mark on the league.

But none so as Marcelo Leite Pereira, popularly known as Marcelinho, has done. Born in Rio de Janeiro, Marcelinho began his professional career with the reserve side of Spanish club Atletico Madrid. He also played for Greek clubs Kalamata, Xanthi FC and Atromitos, Baniyas Club in the UAE, Catania in Italy, and Brazilian side Anapolis, before joining the now-defunct ISL side Delhi Dynamos in 2016. The 33-year-old won the Golden Boot award in that season (10 goals in 15 matches). He then moved to Pune City FC, and consequently, to Hyderabad FC last season.

The pocket dynamite has been one of the most influential players in the ISL over the years. With 17 assists and 31 goals in 63 matches, he is third on the list of all-time goal scorers in the league.

Now, for a player as effective and popular as Marcelinho, it was only a matter of time to be linked with one of the most closely-followed teams in the ISL—Kerala Blasters. In fact, the club had approached him in the 2017-18 season, but he had already signed up for Pune City FC by then. Marcelinho had admitted that he gets a lot of messages from Kerala fans and that he “feels very loved here”. The Blasters are trying to rope in the Brazilian this time, but money has proved to be a hurdle so far. With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the finances worldwide, the club has tightened its purse strings. Players have been asked to take paycut, sources say. The club is in no position to pay Marcelinho what he was getting at Hyderabad FC last season (reportedly, Rs 2 crore), but sources say, he has agreed to a paycut. It is learnt that Odisha FC and NorthEast United are also pursuing him, but Blasters management and the fans would be hoping Marcelinho agrees to don the yellow jersey.

The Brazilian's presence will be a blessing for the two-time runners-up (in 2014 and 2016), who have more often than not, flattered to deceive. With nine coaches in six seasons (Kibu Vicuna is the coach for the upcoming season) and reluctance to retain a core group of players, Kerala Blasters have suffered tremendously because of this lack of continuity.

The side have boasted of some big international names like David James, Dimitar Berbatov, Wes Brown, Aaron Hughes, along with national stars like Sandesh Jhingan, Sahal Abdul Sahad, Arata Izumi, Rahul Bheke, among others. Not to mention the football-crazy fans, who have been easily the most vocal of the lot in the ISL. But the Blasters have almost always found itself in the bottom half of the points table. The Kerala side has struggled to find the right balance between attack and defence.

Last season, they scored 29 goals in 18 matches (the fourth highest in the season), with their star striker Bartholomew Ogbeche ruling the scoring charts, with 15 goals. His striking partner Raphael Messi Bouli scored eight. The highest number of goals for the side in a season till then was 22.

The Blasters, coached by Eelco Schattorie, was plagued by injuries throughout the 2019-20 season, and never wore a settled look. International stars like Mario Arques and Sergio Cidoncha, who were tipped to be midfield generals, too, picked up injuries and playmaking suffered despite the presence of Sahal, who got limited chances in the playing XI and was off-colour, too. The effectiveness of the Ogbeche-Messi, on some occasions, made up for the lack of a midfield general.

The defence, too, was a largely unsettled unit, with only left-back Jessel Carneiro playing all the matches (In fact, he was one of the standout performers, with five assists, and 22 interceptions throughout the season). The biggest loss for the team because of injury was Jhingan, who has parted ways with the club now. Blasters conceded 32 goals last season.

It is to this sorry state of affairs, Marcelinho would be welcomed to, if the Blasters manage to sign him. After, probably, striker Iain Hume (one of the side's most popular players, who is called 'Humetan' by the fans), the team did not have a 'workhorse'. Like Hume, who would be in the thick of action till the last minute of the game, Marcelinho is a busy customer who always keeps the opposition on their toes with his nippy runs, ball skills and brilliant assists. What sets him apart is his ability to play on either wing, or as an attacking midfielder or a genuine striker. He can be the utility player that Blasters desperately need.

With new coach Vicuna, who brilliantly led Mohun Bagan to the I-League title last season, preferring a high-pressing and possession-based attacking game, Marcelinho, with his skills and game awareness, could be a key figure in the playing XI. If the coach, who used the 4-3-3 formation with Bagan often, chooses to use the Brazilian in the midfield, he can control the tempo of the game and form a lethal combination with the young and talented playmaker Sahal, along with Cidoncha. Upfront, the Brazilian can be the perfect foil for the experienced Ogbeche, should the Blasters retain the latter. Once again, Marcelinho's versatility can be a boon as he can adjust to different roles should the formation needs to be changed, as Vicuna had to do with Bagan, when he switched to 4-4-2 because of injuries to some of his key players.

"Of course, [it is] a big dream for me,” Marcelinho had told a couple of seasons ago when asked about playing for Kerala Blasters in future. “If one day, I get an opportunity to play in Kerala, it will be something special."

After failing to reach the playoffs for the last three seasons, and the constant chopping and changing, Kerala Blasters fans will be hoping for “something special” in the upcoming season.

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