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The intoxicating joy of Marcelo, who has way too much fun for a defender

Real Madrid's left back is a left back in name only. No one enjoys soccer more than Marcelo.

There’s an old Marcelo interview from 2011 that’s absolutely wonderful. There are no groundbreaking questions or answers in it, nor is it really extensive, but there’s a magic that occurs during the course of it that’s characteristic of talking to or watching the player. He has such a personal joy within him, an innate happiness, that draws the interviewer into falling in love with him.

The questions are pretty standard. The first asks about his favorite song (it’s "Sweetest Girl" by Wyclef Jean and Akon, which he dedicates to his wife, who is his "sweetie"). The second is about his love of dance. And he answers that he dances because he likes to transmit happiness, and has been that way since he was a child, regardless of difficulties. He’s asked about playing video games. He prefers videos and music from the internet but likes to play video games with Pepe, who is better at them.

Then in a sentimental moment, the interviewer, instead of asking a question, reveals to Marcelo what he thinks of the Real Madrid man and says:

"Whenever people ask me about you, I usually tell them one thing, he’s always going to be a kid. He’ll always have the soul of a child."

To which Marcelo replies: "Well yes a kid, but I’ve learned a lot in life, both from defeats and wins, and you can say that I’m a kid, because I’m always happy and upbeat. I think this helps me in the locker room and in my life as well."

As the interview goes on, it becomes apparent that it’s not the interviewer alone who is infatuated with Marcelo. There’s rightfully mentions of his family members: his wife Clarice, his parents, his friends, his brother-in-law Ciao, who is a professional "top, top, top," Futsal player; and his influential grandfather, Don Pedro, an "institution" for him who always lifted his spirits and who worked first as a chauffeur, then in an office, and later would have to take on a different job in order to pay for Marcelo’s training at Fluminense.

"I had to pay 13 reals a day, and that’s a lot in Brazil."

When he received his first salary as a professional, 100 reals, he gave it all to his grandfather. "Yes. He had done everything for me. I wasn’t interested in the money, I was more interesting in joking around with my friends and playing football, so I gave it all to him."

But then there’s a few unusual suspects who are beguiled by the frizzy-haired fullback. He’s described as one of Florentino Pérez’s — a man who once sold his best defensive midfielder without a second thought — weaknesses. "He always says that you’re going to be the best left back in the world, if you aren’t already."

His best friends on the team are the guarded, and revealed from his own movie, isolated, Cristiano Ronaldo and the stereotyped mad-man Pepe. But even Iker Casillas was another with a "weakness" for him. "You’re like a little brother to him, no? He’s always talking about Marcelo."

And Diego Maradona, who would unashamedly slander a saint, said of Marcelo: "After Cristiano and Messi, Marcelo is one of the revelations of La Liga."

There’s few other people in football who share Marcelo’s infectious nature. David Luiz is identical in smiles, hair, and even the cavalier attitude in defense. Kaká had the same lightness about him, and Dani Alves, who is more brash and confrontational, shares Marcelo’s philosophy of happiness before everything. In an interview with Sid Lowe earlier this year, the former Barcelona player, who also shares Marcelo’s attacking verve and defensive criticisms, said:

"When I talk about energy, happiness, joy, that’s applicable to life. I try to make people take that on; I hope to be contagious. Don’t be bitter: the world’s already bitter enough, it’s already self-destructing. I want that positive energy to reach people."

It’s not just a Brazilian thing either. Jürgen Klopp has a similar nature that comes out especially well after a loss, when he’s disappointed but a bit elated. Where he praises his players' efforts, defending them more as a loving parent rather than a Premier League manager before dismissing football results as just football, just a game. The next one they’ll try again.

It’s an attitude that’s in stark contrast to their peers, the clubs, and the game itself. José Mourinho is a very serious man, Klopp is not. The Spanish press were very serious and tore down Alves whenever they could, and he laughed at them. Football is very serious and Real Madrid is a very serious club. When Emmanuel Adebayor first joined, he cut his dreads, reasoning that he felt he needed to be more professional to play for the team. The club is prestigious, it’s royal. You’re not good enough to play for Real Madrid, you’re privileged to.

Yet there’s Marcelo. In the midst of all these very serious men, under the burden of this behemoth of a club that has crushed and discarded many like him — at one point, him and Robinho looked like twins — he exists. He shines. Marcelo, who has the soul of a child. Not childish, but childlike.

His play reflects that. He bounces down the wing, he beats defenders off the dribble, he makes defense-splitting passes, he goes to the inside and finds himself sometimes playing behind the strikers when his team has the ball. He has a fetish for flicks, sly nutmegs, and all in all, embarrassing those who come up against him. He’s only a fullback by trade, but he plays as if Robinho had just been moved into a new position rather than being sold. He’s always having fun and it’s very contagious.

Skill wise, what he can do on and with the ball, he’s above most players in the world.

His goal against Legia Warsaw showed his attacking threat, but the one against Real Betis the game before was much better. After making an overlapping run around Isco and not receiving the ball, he drifts to the center and becomes a striker. And when Benzema’s effort is deflected off a defender’s foot, it comes to Marcelo who instantaneously flicks it up with his chest, does a 360-degree turn, and then bounces it off the ground and over the keeper.

There’s only a handful of players period that have the skill and audacity for that. And only one defender, Marcelo himself.

The talent on the field is just an extension of the person himself. He has the courage to be that bold, to try play as a striker and bounce the ball off his chest and volley it home, because he still sees life through the eyes of a child. He has that innocence. That delicacy that stands in contrast with Real Madrid’s very serious form concerns at the time. The one that sees him foolishly forget his duties and to just do something cool at the time.

Marcelo was brought into Real Madrid to replace another tremendous Brazilian fullback, Roberto Carlos. And the two are eerily similar as players. But at the end of the interview, it’s not their on-field play or or club accomplishments that the interviewer champions. He rather compares their human qualities.

"Well I know that you don’t like being compared to Roberto Carlos, because for you, Roberto Carlos is the greatest left back in history," he says. "But I will compare the two of you in one thing. You have the same humane quality as Roberto Carlos, who is a great person."