’Tis the season for tears | The extraordinary, untold story of Marta Vieira da Silva

Marta has imprints of her feet taken at Estádio Rei Pelé in Maceió on Dec 27. Maceió native Adriano Gabiru of FIFA World Club champion Internacional was also inducted into the Alagoas hall of fame. (O Jornal Alagoas)

In Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life (Bloomsbury, 2002), Alex Bellos recalls visiting a sugar estate in Alagoas in 1999, 10,000 people operating a latifúndio the size of Manhattan. “Most of the estate’s inhabitants,” Bellos writes, “cut the cane with their hands and were earning about £10 for a seven-day week. Not slavery, but almost.” He notes that to its status as the world’s leading exporter of sugar and coffee, Brazil leads the globe in sending footballers abroad: 850 per year as of 2005.

Marta has joined the outward flow, but she had little choice. Brazil has no professional league for women, only a loose network of state-based amateur teams playing on an ad hoc basis. With the Women’s United Soccer Association in the United States—a vehicle for Brazilian stars such as Daniela, Katia, Pretinha and Sissi—having gone bankrupt in 2003, Marta joined Umeå in 2004. On arrival in the northeastern Swedish town some 170 miles south of the Arctic Circle, she juggled a ball next to prodigious snowbanks. In her most recent match, a 6–0 victory over Norway’s Kolbotn IL in a UEFA Women’s Cup semifinal on Nov 12, she scored twice, once with each foot, in steadily falling snow (see highlights from SVT). Umeå play Arsenal of London in a two-leg final, 21 and 29 Apr 07.

Marta—Pelés Kusin deliberately juxtaposes the frigid Swedish surround and Marta’s native Sertão. In Umeå she drives a car from club sponsor Volkswagen, her name and number emblazoned on the side; she laughs through Swedish-language exercises in a computer lab; she appears to catch her first fish, accompanied by much screaming. Whether or not she feels completely at home, she has flourished as striker. She scored 20 goals in 22 games in the 2006 season, second in the league, with Umeå dominating the Damallsvenskan table. Umeå cruised through the 12-team league unbeaten, 21 points clear of Djurgården of Älvsjö. They scored 74 goals and allowed 11. The only setback was a loss in the Swedish Cup final.

With Fabiano Farah as her agent—Farah also represents Ronaldo—Marta earlier in the year sent feelers to clubs in Germany, Sweden and the United States. Shek Borkowski, manager of FC Indiana of the Women’s Premier Soccer League, confirmed that the Goshen-based side with an international roster had been in contact with Farah. Two weeks ago, however, Umeå announced that Marta would re-sign through the 2007 season for an amount believed to range between $75,000 and $85,000 over 10 months (“Så mycket tjänar Marta i UIK,” Västerbottens-Kuriren, Dec 14).

The typical forró trio, consisting of zabumba, accordion and triangle, in sculpture form in Caruaru, Pernambuco. The term “forró” encompasses various forms of dance music in northeastern Brazil. Marta “wakes up listening to that music,” said goalkeeper Andreia in 2003.

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