When Roma coach Zdenek Zeman drew up his list of reinforcements for the new season, he made one thing very clear to the board: he needed a central defender who could slot straight into the side and fill the gap vacated by the departing Juan.
The replacement they found was no experienced campaigner, but a callow 18-year-old Brazilian by the name of Marquinhos, whose club career amounted to less than 15 games for Corinthians. In the space of a few short weeks, however, the promising teenager has secured his position at the heart of the Giallorossi defence, nudging aside more seasoned pretenders in Nicolas Burdisso and Leandro Castan.
His big moment came in the 4-1 defeat to Juventus on Matchday 6 of the Serie A season, when Zeman brought him on to shore up his overrun rearguard. The newcomer impressed on that occasion and then replaced Argentinian international Burdisso in the side.
And when Zeman reshuffled his pack following the defeats to Udinese and Parma, bringing Burdisso back into the fold, Marquinhos held on to his place, making seven consecutive appearances while his defensive colleagues came and went. In doing so, he has earned the praise of his attack-minded Czech coach.
“He’s been playing very solidly and not making mistakes,” said Zeman. “He has the makings of a champion. He’s talented, he moves well and he’s an important part of Roma’s future.”
The Sao Paulo-born player is more surprised than anyone by the rapid progress he has made in the Italian capital. “I didn’t really make the breakthrough in Brazil and hadn’t played much professional football, so when I arrived here the fans were a bit suspicious,” Marquinhos told FIFA.com.
“The coach has shown faith in me from the off though, and the way I play the game fits in with the style here: it’s quick, they play the way they face, pass the ball a lot and they value your positional sense. Obviously I had my dreams when I came here and I wanted to have my chance. I just didn’t expect to get it so quickly.”
The fact remains, though, that Marquinhos has been on the fast track since embarking on his career. Only last year he won the Brazilian championship with Corinthians, just months after captaining Brazil at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico.
He then formed part of the Timão youth side that won this January’s Copa Sao Paulo, a national U-20 competition. As if that were not enough, his club then won the Copa Libertadores, the prelude to his move to Roma, one of Italy’s leading outfits. “Everything’s been happening so quickly in my life,” said the player. “When I think about it, it seems like it’s all taken a long time, but it’s only been a year.
"My life’s changed completely but I’ve had to work hard for it and over many years too, making sacrifices and living in lodgings. I’m now with Roma, a big-name team, and I’m proud to have started games, put in some good performances and to have played against big sides like Juventus and Lazio.”
Though the teenager has good memories of his time in Brazil, he is only looking forward in Rome, where he lives in a house a good deal plusher than his accommodation with Corinthians. The presence of compatriots Castan, Dodo, Rodrigo Taddei and near-namesake Marquinho in the squad and his improving Italian have also made the transition easier.
Nevertheless, just as he did at his previous club, the youngster has to get a lift to training. “What with all the negotiations, I wasn’t able to get my driver’s licence, which means my dad still has to take me,” he explained bashfully.
Marquinhos is so at ease in his new surroundings he even drops in some Italian when setting out his long-term career objectives and his more immediate goals with Roma, who lie 12 points adrift of Serie A leaders Juve in sixth: “My dream in the short term is to win the scudetto, but I really want to establish myself, reach the top and play for Brazil.”
As far as his international career is concerned, and as he acknowledged, the next step in his development seems more likely to come with the U-20 side, who will soon be gunning for a place at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013: “Obviously that’s a more realistic goal and I’d be delighted to go. Playing for A Seleção is always good for your self-esteem.”
Yet given Marquinhos’ rapid rate of progress, nothing should be ruled out, not even a place in Mano Menezes’ squad for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, by which time he will be 20 and something of a veteran. Already a Copa Libertadores champion, a first choice for Roma and a member of Menezes’ preliminary shortlist for the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012, from which he was eventually discarded, anything seems possible for the upwardly mobile stopper.
“The fact that Mano’s been watching me play goes to show that I’m doing things right,” said the youngster. “And if he does give me that chance, it could lead on to something big in the future.
"Why shouldn’t I think about making the World Cup in 2014?," he concluded. "After everything that’s happened I just don’t know what’s possible or impossible for me anymore. I’m going to fight for it and I think it could happen.”