The Magnificence of Marquinhos

Paolo Bruno

Let's eschew the managerial talk for a moment and take a look at the season just turned in by Roma's man-child, Marquinhos. In case you missed it, it was magnificent.

While I recently indulged in a bit of vainglorious bragging about my Marquinhos' prediction back in August, the truth was nobody really had the slightest inclination what Roma had just stumbled upon. Setting aside what he achieved on the pitch, which we'll discuss shortly, the mere fact that Roma got 26 appearances out of a teenage centerback should be considered a victory in itself. But the boy with the braces didn't just settle for good enough, what Marquinhos managed this season in Rome, due to his age and the sheer quality of his play, was nothing short of magnificent, so let's take a look back and how Marquinhos got here, what he achieved, and what we should expect going forward.

All Roads Lead to Rome

If you believe the story, Leandro Castan's legacy in Roma, no matter what he may go on to achieve, might have been cast the day he told Walter Sabatini to check out his young teammate, Marcos Aoás Corrêa. While we have no idea the extent to which this was true, I'm sure you all join me in saying obrigado, Leandro.

What might ultimately go down as the greatest loan in club history was, by some measures, a complete gamble. Setting aside the fact that Marquinhos was only 18, the risk rested within the fact that he had only made six appearances for Corinthians...six! Let me say that again...six. Hell, it usually takes me six times to plug anything into my USB port without looking.

This wasn't some wunderkind who debuted at 16 or 17 and had a season's worth of matches under his belt. Marquinhos, having less than 500 professional minutes on his resume, was a gamble in every sense-in experience, in age, in levels of competition-he was as raw as a prospect could get. And we haven't even mentioned the acclimation period required for anyone living abroad, let alone an adolescent playing professional football in the sea of instability we call Roma.

But, precisely because of his dearth of professional experience, it was reasonable to expect a lengthy acclimation period for the boy affectionately known as ‘Hos. Of course, reasonability is subjective. For Marquinhos, for his brother, and for Zeman, the leap of faith required was minimal. The ability to merely adapt and survive the slings and arrows of Serie A was a feat in and of itself, but to thrive in the manner he did makes Marquinhos' maiden season even more magnificent.

In this respect, give full marks to Zeman for showing faith in a completely unproven commodity. Zeman's trust, combined with Marquinhos' work ethic and his abundance of talent, ensured this transition phase was minimal, if not downright non-existent. Following a brief 15 minute cameo against Bologna, Zeman essentially threw the young Brazilian to the wolves (no pun intended), playing 56 key minutes against league champions Juventus the following week.

And that was essentially that; Marquinhos was a full time starter from that point on.

First Impressions

Whether you call him ‘Hos, Marquinho the Plural, or simply the next Roberto Carlos, if we're going to talk about what Marquinhos achieved this year, we might was well start from the beginning.

Zednek Zeman is a man of conviction and ambition, and when it came to his choice of starting centerback, 72 minutes was all it took to secure his faith in Marquinhos. With barely more than an hour of Serie A service under his belt, Marquinhos was thrust into the limelight against Atalanta in October. In only his third Serie A appearance, and, let's be honest, only his 9th as a professional, Marquinhos turned in one of his finest performances.

On that October afternoon, Marquinhos was a perfect two-for-two in tackles, made six interceptions and cleared the ball 12 times, 75% of which were in the 18 yard box. He would also complete 81% of his passes, block one shot and draw two Atalanta attackers offside. His first 90 minutes provided a glimpse of what we'd see the remainder of the season; an active and intelligent anchor to Roma's backline.

The most impressive thing about Marquinhos' season was that, aside from a brief spell at the end of 2012 and few intermittent performances in the spring, he was remarkably consistent; an admirable quality for any player, let alone an adolescent, and one in which this club severely lacks.

Consistency is one thing, being consistently excellent is a completely different story. While he's not yet infallible, at this incredibly nascent stage of his career, Marquinhos already excels at reading the game and shows an innate sense of timing, while rarely being caught ball watching or out of position. Quite simply, he has all the traits one desires in a defender, with the size and athleticism that should only see his skill set grow exponentially in the coming years.

Marquinhos' exceedingly fast acclimation to life in Serie A would effectively put an end to Nicolas Burdisso's time as a starter, as Marquinhos would go the full 90 in 21 of his next 24 matches.

A starter, if not a star, was born.

Here's a general look at what Roma's manchild is capable of:


Now here is evidence of perhaps his finest performance this season, the January 20th encounter with Inter. Marquinhos' full skill set is on display here: intercepting, blocking tackling, anticipation...


True appreciation for what Marquinhos accomplished this season might not come for a while, but let's take a look at how his numbers compare to his peers.

Stacking Him Up

I mentioned it during the preview in review', but here's another glimpse of where Marquinhos' numbers stacked up against his Serie A and European counterparts. For brevities sake, we'll only address Europe when Marquinhos' numbers fall within the top 20.

Tackles

  • 51 total
  • 2 per match
    • 3rd on team among defenders
  • 84% success rate
    • 1st on team
    • 3rd in Serie A (this was a bit hard to quantify, but he is definitely among the elite)

Interceptions

  • 2.2 per match (71 total)
    • 2nd on the team
    • 7th (tied) in Serie A
    • 15th (tied) in Europe

Offsides Won

  • 27 total
  • 1 per match
    • 3rd (tied) on team
    • 5th (tied) in Serie A
    • 8th (tied) in Europe

Clearances

  • 191 total
  • 7.3 per match
    • 2nd on team
    • 15th (tied) in Serie A

Blocked Shots

  • 20 total
  • 0.8 per match
    • 1st on team
    • 4th (tied) in Serie A
    • 7th (tied) in Europe

It's easy to discuss players as great as Marquinhos purely in the superlative form, but in this case, his steak definitely matches the sizzle. His interception, offsides, and clearance numbers, aside from being among the best in the league, are indicators of his vision, concentration, anticipation, timing, and understanding of the game. So the quantitative data does indeed support all the love shown to Marquinhos' game.

As astounding as these numbers are, they take on a whole new light when you consider they were put up by an 18 year old with only six professional matches under his belt before debuting in Serie A. We really cannot stress this enough, in every way, shape and form, Marquinhos exceed all reasonable expectations this year.

I try to maintain a level of semi-professionalism in these things, so you'll have to forgive me, but this kid is fucking awesome.

Looking Ahead

If you didn't believe your own eyes, those numbers should provide further evidence to what we've all come to realize, that Marquinhos is one of the world's most dynamic young defenders...all at the low, low cost of €4.5m.

So we know how he got here (again, obrigado, Leandro), what he achieved this season, but what can he ultimately be?

Standing six-feet tall and only 19-years old, there is certainly room for his game to grow, literally and figuratively, so his career trajectory can go a number of ways. Add another inch or so and 10-15 pounds of muscle and he's a hulking center back, adding strength and stature to his already impressive cognitive abilities. While every team needs an imposing centerback to anchor its backline and defend set pieces, if that is ultimately what Marquinhos becomes, might Roma be holding him back?

If you saw any of those forward runs he made against Lazio in the Coppa final, it's not a stretch to imagine his future on the flanks as a full back. Having completed 89% of his passes this season, his basic, raw passing numbers are already strong. However, if he were to make this transition in the future, he would have to improve his crossing, his one-v-one offensive skills, and develop a better feel for springing attacks and creating chances in the final third; all of which would happen in due time. But he already has the pace and stamina to be more of an offensive threat, not to mention great size for a fullback, so it's not beyond the realm of possibility. He's shown flashes of being a true two-way player, so all it would take would be some intrepid manager taking another Zeman-esque leap of faith in the young man.

Whatever the ensuing decades hold for Marcos Aoás Corrêa, his first season in Serie A was a showstopper. He not only adapted to the Italian game at a remarkable pace, but he excelled week-in-week-out, showing the consistency of a man ten years his senior. His intuition for the game and his physical gifts make his ceiling virtually limitless.

So who is he?

Is he Roberto Carlos? Is he Maicon? Ricardo Carvalho? Thiago Silva? Nemanja Vidic? Sergio Ramos?...Franz Beckenbauer?

These types of questions, while fun, are ultimately academic. It doesn't matter if he becomes an immovable object in central defense or a jackrabbit bounding up and down the flanks, harrying opposing forwards and terrorizing keepers.

When we're talking about the magnificence of Marquinhos, the only thing that matters is that he remains Roma's.

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