With every goal he scores in the Brasilerao, Marcos Assuncao makes life that little bit more uncomfortable for the coaches and directors who overlooked his considerable talents when he returned to his homeland last year. Out of the country for a decade, the 34-year-old found few suitors following a spell in the United Arab Emirates. Aside from doubts about his staying power, his superlative set-piece skills were also questioned, with the unfashionable Gremio Barueri (since renamed Gremio Prudente) the only club prepared to take him on.
After showing he still had what it took, Assuncao earned a move to Palmeiras, where he has continued to make life difficult for goalkeepers across the land, scoring four goals already this term and proving that his fabled shooting accuracy remains intact.
“You need a bit of luck when you’re up against Assuncao,” commented Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who is well acquainted with the former Real Betis man’s dead-ball wizardry following numerous duels in La Liga. With stints in Spain and Italy behind him, and now in the twilight of his career, Assuncao is happy to have proved the doubters wrong, as he explained to FIFA.com.
“I came back last July and Barueri were the only team in Brazil who wanted to give me an opportunity,” he said, recalling his problems on returning home. “We had a lot of meetings with other clubs but they told me I’d been away for a long time and that they didn’t know what condition I was in and if I’d be able to last the pace. My age seemed to put them off.”
Given the recent spate of exiled stars returning to the Brazilian game, it was something of a surprise to see a player who had who turned out for the likes of Santos, Flamengo, Roma and Betis struggle to attract offers. Barueri, the youngest members of the top flight, came to the rescue by giving him a contract last September. The low-key surroundings suited Assuncao, who eased his way back to peak form, to the surprise of many who had declined him an opportunity.
“A lot of the time I understood the position the directors were in,” he explained. "I wasn’t going to break down in tears and beg them to give me a chance. I knew I was going to prove myself on the pitch, so I’d just say, ‘many thanks for seeing me’ and that was that. I didn’t bother calling them again.”
Over the next few months, Assuncao showed why he had so much confidence in himself, eventually earning himself a move to Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Palmeiras and aiding their recovery. “All it took was for the players to get used to the way Felipão works,” he said of his new team, who now stand ninth in the table.
“We know each other’s movements now and what each of us can bring to the side. We’ve got 11 games left in the championship and we have to treat them as finals if we’re going to reach our objective of a place in the Copa Libertadores. The title looks to be beyond us though.”
Assuncao’s free-kick expertise could play a vital role in the run-in. As he revealed, it is a part of his game he has always worked on, right from the early days when his free-kicks were more about power than precision: “I used to hit the ball hard when I was a kid. At that age, the goal is big and the keepers are small, and all I had to do was shoot hard and high.”
The man responsible for honing his technique was Wilson Carrasco, his youth team coach at Rio Branco. A left-sided midfielder who enjoyed his heyday with Portuguesa in the 1970s, Carrasco was a scholar in the art of free-kicks and would set his young student special challenges at the end of training sessions: “We bet him Coca-Colas and the kids always ended up paying. He always won.”
Of the many keepers who have waited in trepidation for his venomous strikes to wing their way towards goal, Assuncao enjoys a special relationship with one: that man Casillas. Over the course of their meetings in the Spanish top tier, the two rivals acquired great respect for each other.
The Real Madrid custodian knew exactly what to expect whenever Betis were awarded a free-kick in the vicinity of his penalty box, while the Brazilian was aware he would have to produce his very best to score. The Spain No1 edged their duels over the years but had such respect for his opponent that he made a point of collecting his shirt before he left La Liga.
“I never managed to score past him,” admitted Assuncao. “He was always difficult to beat and for me he’s been the best in the world in his position for a long time now. I’ve got one of his shirts at home. Goalkeepers usually swap shirts with each other, so for him to come and ask for my jersey was something I was very proud and pleased about, because of everything he represents in the game.”
Assuncao is now pitting his wits against the likes of Rogerio Ceni, Fabio, Renan and Jefferson, and has no intention of giving them any respite just yet. “I really look after myself and I think I can carry on my position for another two years,” he said, still looking to the future. “As long as I can keep on performing for myself and my team, I’ll keep on playing.”