The talent, the gossip, the inside track
Celso de Campos Jr
In their 95-year history, the monarchy-loving Santos have had a king (Pelé), a prince (Robinho) and many, many jesters (there’s plenty to choose from in this year’s sloppy roster alone). All they lacked was a queen.
But no more.
Club president Marcelo Teixeira proudly announced last week that Marta, the three-time FIFA Women’s Player of the Year and arguably the best lady ever to cuddle a football, will join the female squad of Santos in September.
True, it’s only going be for three months during the US Women’s Professional Soccer League's off-season – where Marta stars for the Los Angeles Sol.
However, this stint, as short lived as it is, may have an impact that could change football forever.
Not because of the front-page bound picture of Pelé handing Marta, in her official presentation, the historical number 10 shirt of Santos, which she’ll don as the new leader of the Village Mermaids – the marvelous nickname of the club’s women squad.
Neither because her arrival means she’ll grace and market the first ever female Copa Libertadores, which will be contested by the South American’s top 10 teams in October in Brazil – a landmark and big push for the continent’s female football.
But what I am anticipating is something much bigger than that... a woman playing in men's professional football, in the Brazilian championship with the world famous Santos.
"Let me at 'em..."
A wild guess? A mad theory? Perhaps.
But we have never been so close to that happening, thanks to the unique presence of three main factors I’ll present below. Combined, they can make what seemed unthinkable pure reality in a few months.
1. Marta. Of course, if we were talking about any other lady in the world, playing with men would be out of question. But she’s damn good, better than many players on both the national – and international – scene.
Sometime ago, when Marta revealed she was a Corinthians fan, reporters asked the Corinthians players if they would welcome her on the team.
On the record, the usual “Don’t know, she’s a woman, perhaps she can’t take the heat” routine was repeated. Off the record, most of them said it would be a blessing, and that they would be thankful for being on her side and not the opponents'.
2. Vanderlei Luxemburgo. The manicured, spotlight-loving coach is once again calling the shots from the Santos hotseat – fired from Palmeiras late June, he returned to Vila Belmiro two weeks ago.
He’s got a free pass from president Marcelo Teixeira, a friend more than a boss since the coach took Santos to the 2004 National Championship.
And my guess is that Luxa will jump on the opportunity to make football history. “Who was the first gaffer who had the balls to field a woman in a professional squad? Me, me, me,” he’ll scream out loud.
3. The 2009 Santos roster. As I mentioned before, sloppy.
Aside from Neymar, Paulo Henrique Lima (the Goose) and the diminutive Madson, if you throw all the players in a juicer, you’ll get half a glass of liquid talent.
Even striker Kleber Pereira, who finished as one of the country’s top strikers last year, seems to have forgotten how to score.
If they’re not good enough to fight for a Libertadores spot, they’re neither bad enough to battle against relegation – there are some really awful lots here this season.
So mid-table obscurity welcomes Santos with open arms.
That’s where Marta comes in.
"Pardon me, coming through..."
Picture the scene at Santos in October/November. The championship heads into the home straight and the team is going nowhere.
Fans are bored to death with the squad’s dull performances. Attendances are going down. And the lady who filled a whole Maracanã stadium (in 2007) is practicing on the pitch next door?
You do the math.
Of course, a Marta calling will raise bedlam in male professional football, and several questions will pop up.
Do the rules allow it? As far as I know, there’s no legal impediment. Can she perform as brilliantly against strong, brutal, male opposition? She has answered that more than once, saying: “I’ve always played with the boys, shouldn’t be a problem.”
For heaven’s sake, the girl has faced hunger – and rolled over it. Why would she fear a boneheaded defender?
If it happens come October, even I will become a monarchist.
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