YOKOHAMA – As secret weapons go, there are few better players a J. League team could call on than Brazilian striker Marquinhos.
Urawa Reds learned that the hard way in last week’s game against Yokohama F. Marinos when, with two minutes left on the clock and the score at 1-1, Shunsuke Nakamura swung a corner deep toward the back post. One flash of his trademark ponytail later, Marquinhos had bagged the winner — just 16 minutes after coming off the bench in his first appearance for Marinos since rejoining the club at the start of the year.
Urawa should have known better. A 10-year veteran of the Japanese game with 110 goals and the 2008 player-of-the-year award to his name, Marquinhos is one of the J. League’s enduring achievers. A year away from Japan and an early-season injury may have taken him out of the spotlight, but the 36-year-old will always know where the goal is.
“I was happy just to be back on the pitch and to be able to help the team,” Marquinhos said at Marinos’ training ground earlier this week. “First of all I am working very hard in training to get in shape to play, and my condition is getting better all the time. Scoring goals is what I am known for, and hopefully I can make my contribution that way.
“I have played in the J. League for a total of 10 years now. There are a lot of very good players here, and for me this is a special league. So I’m very happy to be back, and now I want to work hard and do as much as I can to help the team.”
Having left Japan in unhappy circumstances last year, Marquinhos is understandably determined to make the most of his opportunity. The striker played only one game for Vegalta Sendai before the Great East Japan Earthquake sent the 2011 season into temporary stasis, and with aftershocks continuing to rock Sendai, Marquinhos canceled his contract and left for Brazil.
“Last year in Sendai, when the earthquake happened it was a huge event and a big shock,” he said. “I felt that I couldn’t continue playing in Japan, so I went back to Brazil and continued my career there. I had spent a long time in Japan and had won titles and had a lot of success here, so this year when I got the offer from Marinos it didn’t take long for me to say yes.”
Given their poor early-season form, Marinos must be relieved their new signing is now ready for action. The team set an unwanted club record in March and April with no goals in four successive games, and although three wins in a row has lifted it into 13th in the table going into Saturday’s visit to Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Marquinhos knows times have changed since he won the title in his first spell with the club in 2003.
“All the players here are working toward the same big goal of winning the title,” he said. “In 2003 we had many good players and a team that was able to accomplish a lot, and winning the title as part of that team is a great memory for me.
“If you compare the team we had then to the one we have now, the 2003 team had more international players. We’re not at that level just yet, but everyone is working hard to get there.”
Marquinhos may have won his first silverware in Japan with Marinos, but it was at Kashima Antlers where he really made his mark. A four-year stint from 2007 brought him three consecutive league titles and the 2008 MVP and Golden Boot awards, and the striker is quick to pay tribute to manager Oswaldo Oliveira for unlocking his potential.
“It was like a father-son relationship,” he said of Oliveira, who left Antlers at the end of last season to return to Brazil with Botafogo. “He placed his trust in me and made me a better player. He really believed in me, and because of that I was able to perform to my best and help the team win lots of titles.
“You can’t get good results without good training, and that is what we had at Kashima for those four years. Individually the players all worked hard to raise their own level, and over those four years we were able to come together as a team. At Marinos now we’re working hard to do the same.”
Marquinhos’ current side will have to draw on every last reserve of his experience if it is to emulate Kashima’s success, and having played for six teams throughout his J. League career, he certainly has plenty of that. Upon arriving at Tokyo Verdy over a decade ago, however, the future was beyond imagination.
“I first came to Japan on a six-month loan, and everything was completely different to what I was used to,” he said. “At first I thought I would leave when my loan had finished. Now Japan is like a second home.”