Once again, Brazil star Marta is the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year. For the fourth time in succession - an unprecedented achievment - the extraordinary forward was crowned queen of women's football following a year in which she debuted in style in the renovated Women’s professional soccer league in USA.
Marta announced her signature with Los Angeles Sol after last year’s Gala and her first season proved a perfect start. Her Southern California side won the title and she laid claim to both the league’s top player award as well as scooping the top-scorer honours. After the regular season in the US, she went out on loan to Santos in her native Brazil. Wearing the famous black-and-white stripes, she participated in the Copa do Brazil and the first edition of the women’s Copa Libertadores, winning both competitions to keep alive her legend as one of the top women’s players of all time.
Battling against the odds is something 23-year-old Marta has grown used to since taking her first steps in the game. Football may be a religion in her native country, but back in the days when the young player discovered her passion for the sport, girls were largely discouraged from taking part, a point of view shared by her family.
Determined to pursue her dream, Marta left her hometown of Dois Riachos at the age of 14 for the bright lights of Rio de Janeiro, starting out at Vasco da Gama before making the move to Sao Martins. In 2004, Europe came calling for the youngster, Marta packing her bags once more and heading for Sweden.
Aged just 18 and far away from her loved ones in a land where the language and weather were alien to her, the determined teenager sought to overcome the many obstacles she faced by showing just what she could do with a ball at her feet. When club side Umea offered her the chance she had been denied at home, she was eager to make the most of it.
And that is exactly what she did. Today, the free-scoring forward is a world star. As well as the glittering award she picked up in Zurich in 2006, 2007 and 2008, the youngster has also pocketed two Pan-American Games gold medals, a runners-up medal at China 2007, two Olympic silver medals with the Canarinhas, not to mention winning the UEFA Cup with former club Umea, plus four Swedish league titles and one Swedish cup.
Yet nothing has moved her more, perhaps, than the recognition she received from her compatriots at the Estadio Maracana. It was there, at the temple of Brazilian football, that the No10 left her footprints in the Hall of Fame, becoming in the process, the very first woman to line up alongside national legends Pele, Garrincha, Zico, Romario and Ronaldo, to name but a few.
What makes Marta such a special player? A mean turn of pace combined with the maziest of dribbling skills can unhinge even the tightest defence. And with her innate scoring instincts, fearsome shooting ability, unselfish passing and willingness to help team-mates out of tight spots, she has become the complete player. A reserved character off the pitch, Marta is the leader of the Brazil pack on it, bubbling with energy and seemingly immune to fatigue. Her only weakness is perhaps in the air, standing as she does a mere 1.60 metres tall.
The world caught its first glimpse of Marta when she took part in the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship Canada 2002 at the tender age of 16. And a year later she was back in the global spotlight at the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup™. Seen as a promising rookie on those occasions, by the time Athens 2004 came around she was the undisputed star of the team and the foundation of their gold medal hopes - hopes that were ultimately thwarted by USA in tense final. It was a role she occupied once more at the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship Thailand 2004, and although Brazil limped home in fourth place, Marta's stunning individual performances earned her the adidas Golden Ball.
The FIFA Women's World Cup 2007 seemed set to cement Marta's status at the very top of the women's game. Though she may have missed out on a winners' medal, her performance throughout the event on Chinese soil was nothing short of outstanding. Even taking into account her penalty miss at a crucial point in the final against Germany, Marta was undoubtedly the star of the show. Her seven-goal haul earned her the adidas Golden Shoe and she also took home the adidas Golden Ball award.
Silver was the final step again in Beijing 2008, as Brazil lost out to the USA once again. It looks like gold is always denied Marta at international level with her beloved Canarinha, but she has an impressive collection of top individual awards. After bronze in 2004, and silver in 2005, she now has a record four golden FIFA Women's World Player awards.