Marlos suffered a shock to the system in January, when he swapped the warmth of the Brazilian summer for the deep Ukrainian mid-winter. Signing for Metalist Kharkiv from Sao Paulo, the 23-year-old found himself pining for the sultry climes of home as he battled with temperatures as low as minus 30ºC.
“It was very, very tough to begin with,” the midfielder from the state of Paranaense told FIFA.com. “It was so, so cold. Things would just freeze straightaway and it was virtually impossible to train.
"I’d spent 23 years living the same life, with the same routine and getting up at the same time. But with the different climate here and the time change, it’s been difficult to adapt and go about my work. It’s been pretty tough up to now.”
Listening to those words, you could be forgiven for thinking that Marlos is regretting his decision to make such a radical career change. Yet, in battling so hard to overcome the harsh Ukrainian climate, the young Brazilian has not even had time to ponder the kind of problems players usually encounter when they leave home for distant shores. Take, for example, the significant variations between the Brazilian and Ukrainian game, which the player has taken in his stride.
“In Brazil, you’ve got time to get the ball under control, think about what you’re going to do and move forward," Marlos explained. "But as soon as you receive the ball here, you’ve got three players on top of you. That means you’ve got to think quickly. We’re getting the hang of it though.”
Marlos’s willingness to adapt and the inestimable support of fellow Brazilians Cleiton Xavier, Taison and Fininho have allowed him to find his feet and gain the confidence of Metalist coach Myron Markevych in next to no time. He scored his first goal for the club in only his second game, a UEFA Europa League tie against Red Bull Salzburg, and secured a starting place only four games later as he began to hit form, all while grappling with a testing process of acclimatisation.
“My main concern is to try and get used to the climate and the people,” he said, refusing to get carried away with the promising start to his Metalist career. “That said, I’m going to play my best football and show exactly why I came here. I’ve got a lot improving still to do. They’re halfway through their season here, whereas I’m only at the start of mine. I’m gradually increasing the pace though, and I’m catching up.”
Sporting hurdle, new surroundings
Even at this early stage, Marlos believes his move to Metalist has been a positive one and has given him a fresh outlook and fresh impetus. From being a fringe player at Sao Paulo in 2011, he has become a key figure with Metalist, who are this season aiming to take a big step towards the European elite, a process they hope to continue in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final tie against Sporting tonight.
While Os Leões collected Manchester City’s scalp in the previous round, Metalist were no less impressive in coming back from the dead against Olympiacos. Though beaten 1-0 at home by the Greeks in the first leg and trailing by the same scoreline in the second, the Ukrainians stuck to their task, striking twice late on in Piraeus to advance on away goals.
“We never stopped believing,” said Marlos. “We lost the first leg but we knew we had what it took to come back, and that kept us going in the return. Now we’re up against a side that knocked out Manchester City, so we need to be on our guard. We’ve got quality though, and they’ll need to show us some respect.”
As he seeks to make a success of his brave move, the inventive midfielder is intent on learning from the mistakes of the past, a past in which the 'Lionel Marlos' tag given him by the Sao Paulo fans weighed heavy.
“Sao Paulo is a great club but there was a lot of competition for places and it was very tough,” he explained. “I don’t think the coaches had that much faith in me because I was very young when I came into the side. You’re not going reach your very best level at the drop of a hat. I was getting there, but then the chance to move came up and I’m now hoping to kick on and become the finished article here.”
Two months into his Ukrainian adventure, Marlos is relieved to see winter finally loosening its icy grip. And though he has plenty to keep him occupied, with the Europa League entering its decisive phase and the hard-tackling defenders of the national championship snapping at his heels, he is still adapting to his new surroundings.
That process continued on the very day FIFA.com spoke to him, with the player moving out of the hotel he has called home so far and into a new apartment in Kharkiv: “I’m starting a new life now and all I need to make it complete is for my wife to arrive.”
Having liked what they have seen so far, Metalist fans are rubbing their hands in anticipation at what Marlos can achieve once he settles in for good.