Marta Vieira da Silva is indeed the Pele of women’s football

The Brazilian is a five-time FIFA World Woman Player of the Year and her journey to the top is nothing short of inspiring.

Martin BERNETTI / AFP

It’s apt that the person considered to be the best player in women’s football also happens to be from Brazil, a country known to be football-crazy and seemingly equipped with a conveyor belt which continuously produces one gifted male footballer after another. But when it comes to women football players, things are very different. Due to a lack of support and opportunities, the supremely gifted Marta had to move to Sweden when she turned 18.

Now 31, Marta has received Swedish citizenship due to her time spent there and exploits in the Scandinavian country, which has a strong league in the women’s game and is one of the best places to play the sport for women. Marta originally hails from Dois Riachos, Alagoas in Brazil, a place far from bustling Rio de Janeiro, known for its humble way of life. The 5’4” forward began her journey by playing football on the streets with boys. Buying a proper ball was out of the question for the poverty-stricken group, and consequently they had to use their imagination to conjure a makeshift ball out of folded plastic bags!

Marta also had to face a lot of ridicule and abuse from people who just couldn’t digest the fact that she was doing something a woman wasn’t supposed to do – in their opinion. Her family too wasn’t supportive of her taking to football, and she once was banned from a boys’ tournament midway, where she was having great success. Because she wasn’t a “boy”!

NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP

Her mazy dribbling skills, coupled with pace and a quick-thinking brain, have been a treat to watch all these years. Marta chalks her development up to all those years spent on the streets playing with boys. Her style of play is reminiscent of Brazilian greats like Romario, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and she has been dubbed “Pele with skirts”, a moniker that even the great Pele himself endorses! There seems to be a sense of unbridled joy in her when she has the ball at her feet, and that sight has given nightmares to defenders the world over.

It’s been painful for her to live away from her family for so long but in the end it has proved to be worth it. She has constantly relocated - from Brazil to Sweden to USA and back - in search of her livelihood, and today Marta is the highest paid woman footballer in the world. Marta is also a United Nations goodwill ambassador, championing women’s issues besides being part of FIFA’s Live Your Goals campaign, helping females to taking up the sport.

Marta is tied with Argentine talisman Lionel Messi for most World Player of the Year Awards and has scored a stunning 105 goals in just 101 appearances for the national team. The Brazilian has blazed her way to the top only due to her iron-will, which definitely complemented her enormous talent. A two-time Olympic silver medallist, she yearns for the elusive gold medal. A World Cup trophy is another thing missing from her trophy cabinet.

These two disappointments, however, don’t take the sheen away from a brilliant career that this amazing, trailblazer of a woman has had.

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