- Marinho has inspired Santos into the Copa Libertadores final
- Tite recently mentioned him for a potential Seleção call-up
- ‘Di Marinho’ discusses his form, nickname, Palmeiras and Brazil
“You have to be something extra special to be discovered in Alagoas,” said Mario Zagallo, the most celebrated son from Brazil’s second-smallest state – one in which lagoon shellfish and coconut water are exported en masse but the likes of ‘The Old Wolf’ and ‘Queen’ Marta are seldomly.
Towards the end of this century’s first decade, however, two Alagoanos were unearthed by Brazilian top-tier clubs. A 17-year-old defensive midfielder from a violent neighbourhood in Maceio was, thanks to a chance recommendation by a local dentist, signed by Figueirense. A 17-year-old winger, meanwhile, from the small but culturally-rich city of Penedo, joined Neymar and Ganso in the youth ranks of Santos.
But as the former, Roberto Firmino, went on to star for Liverpool and Brazil, Marinho endured setback after setback. His Santos fantasy rapidly evaporated. He failed to establish himself at Fluminense and Internacional.
He found himself playing in Serie B. Then Serie C. And even after what was supposedly a breakout year in 2016, in which he dazzled for Vitoria in the Brasileirao, his career free fell with forgettable spells at Changchun Yatai and Gremio.
Suddenly, surprisingly, Santos came calling again. And after a fine first season in their No11 shirt – they finished second in the Brasileirao behind 2019 FIFA Club World Cup™ runners-up Flamengo – Marinho has enjoyed the campaign of dreams. The 30-year-old has been arguably the best player in the league and has inspired Santos into the Copa Libertadores final against state rivals Palmeiras.
The right-sided attacker chats to FIFA.com about Saturday’s showdown with Palmeiras, video calls from Neymar, being nicknamed after Angel Di Maria and his Brazil aspirations.
FIFA.com: Marinho, you’ve suffered several disappointments in your career. What’s been the key to your spectacular transformation?
Marinho: I believe I’ve matured a lot. When I arrived at Santos, the support I felt from the fans, everyone who works at Santos gave me great confidence to go and do my best. It’s true that I’ve gone through a lot of difficult times in my career, but I’ve worked really hard and, thank God, I’m enjoying a great moment.
They call you ‘Di Marinho’ after Angel Di Maria. What do you think of the nickname?
(laughs) I really like it. It was a nickname that came from the Vitoria supporters, when I was there in 2016, because we had, more or less, similar playing styles. It’s a really affectionate nickname. He’s an incredible player, a winner, he plays for a big European team. I have a lot of admiration for Di Maria, so the nickname is really cool.
Santos beat Gremio 4-1 to reach the Libertadores semi-finals, dominated Boca Juniors in Argentina and won the return leg 3-0. What do you think of the club’s form?
I think everything we’re achieving now is the reward of our hard work since the start of the year. We’ve built a family here that, football aside, is amazing. Every player believes in each other. Out on the pitch we’re a family and a team. We’re enjoying a magnificent moment at the club and I hope we can realise our goals at the end of this season.
What do you think of Palmeiras?
They’re a great team. They have been challenging for titles for a few years. They’re powerful financially. We have a lot of respect for this Palmeiras team. It’s two great sides in the final who have both won this competition. It’s a derby. It’s great for both sets of supporters, for neutral fans, and it will be a great final.
If you could take one player out of the Palmeiras team, who would it be?
They have several quality players, but Weverton. He’s in incredible form. He’s an amazing goalkeeper.
How confident are you Santos will win the Libertadores?
We’ve worked really, really hard. We’ll keep our feet on the ground. We know it will be tough. But we’ve worked really hard, we’ll enter the game having prepared really well, and we’ll give it our all for the Santos supporters. They’re extremely passionate. They’re spread not just all over Brazil but all over the world. We’d love to reward their fantastic support.
Can you tell us about your relationship with Neymar?
It was really cool when he made a video call and asked to speak to me. I’ve already played up front with him in a charity match at the Maracana. He always treats me really well. I have great admiration for him. He’s a guy I really want to win [The Best FIFA Men’s Player] award. Hopefully he wins the next one. I’m a big fan.
How do the Santos players feel receiving support, video calls from Neymar?
Receiving support from a player like Neymar and the king of football, Pele, is something that gives us a lot of motivation. Pele made history, Neymar is making history. To have them both watching us, sending their support makes us really happy.
Bayern Munich are the favourites for the FIFA Club World Cup. What do you think of them?
There are no words to describe Bayern. They won the Champions League and look at the way they won it. Playing in the FIFA Club World Cup is something every player dreams about, and to maybe reach the final and play this Bayern team would be even more special. But first we have to give it everything to win the Libertadores. We’re not thinking about Bayern. We live in the present and we have a very tough game that we are totally focussed on. But if we win it, as soon as the final whistle sounds, I’ll be thinking about the Club World Cup.
How did you feel last month to hear Tite mention you as someone he was looking at for the Seleção?
To hear the Seleção coach say your name makes you really happy. If I get called up by the Seleção it’s down to my work at Santos. I want to remain dedicated, continue working hard here not only so that Tite calls me up, but that he feels certain that he can put me on the pitch knowing that I will do everything to help him, to help the team. Wearing my country’s shirt would be something incredible, the realisation of a childhood dream.
You made your professional debut under Tite at Internacional. What do you think of him?
I won my first title as a professional with him. He’s a winner, I have huge admiration for him. I have always supported him and I wish him all the luck in the world. I want to keep working hard so that he keeps remembering me.