Books | Born in ‘invisible town,’ Marta gains life in visible ink

He has sought a publisher for the book in Brazil and has encountered resistance to women’s football as subject matter as well as a publishing environment shaken by earlier controversies over biographies of Garrincha and singer Roberto Carlos (see Pedro Venceslau, “Confissões de um réu primário,” Revista Imprensa, Aug 07). Lawyers debated whether these book projects were “authorized” by the principals or agents. Heirs to Garrincha, seeking $1 million in compensation, initiated an 11-year legal battle following publication in 1995 of Garrincha’s biography, Estrela solitária: Um brasileiro chamado Garrincha (Solitary Star: A Brazilian Called Garrincha) by Ruy Castro.

As to whether Graciano’s book would pass muster with Marta and her agent, Fabiano Farah, Graciano writes in an e-mail that he has not heard from them since the trial run of 250 copies. But in a frontispiece Marta stares from the page, squinting against a bright sun, and she dedicates the text to “my mother and to all the people who still believe in their dreams. Much strength of willpower and persistence.” This would appear to be a strong endorsement.

Marta’s strength as cultural referent is demonstrated by an editorial cartoon that appeared in Brazil during the 2008 Olympic Games. Introducing herself to Ronaldinho—target of much criticism for the men’s team’s bronze-medal performance—Ronaldinho replies, shamefully, “Morto [Dead]. Nice to meet you.” (© 2008 Quinho)

Clearly, the book was completed with full cooperation of Marta and her family; much of the photography comes from the family archive. Even if one does not read Portuguese, scanning the pictures gives an idea of Marta’s story and battling spirit.

As a small girl Marta played team handball before joining a boys’ football team, Everton. Football teams for girls were not an option. But it would be incorrect to think that Marta had no backers or no one encouraging her. Graciano has interviewed and taken pictures of trainers and Marta’s teammates on youth teams as well as an adult amateur side, CSA, in Dois Riachos; many recognized her special abilities. Within the family her eldest brother, José, opposed her playing with CSA, often tracking her down at training on his bicycle. “People were telling me: ‘Your sister is playing football with men.’ I took Marta in the house, fought with her, hit her with force some times. But she ran away and would go back to the pitch.”

Its association with Marta is now CSA’s biggest claim to fame. The training with grown men on patchy fields and hardscrabble playing surfaces would precede another significant risk: a three-day bus journey, at 14, to Rio de Janeiro to try out for the women’s team at Vasco Da Gama. The venture proved disorienting for everyone. As Graciano writes, Dona Tereza and her two sons had no reference points for guiding a daughter who wished to be a professional footballer. (Marta’s second brother is Valdir; she also has a sister, Angela.) The only recognizable name in Brazilian women’s football at the beginning of the 21st century was Milene Domingues, a keepy-uppy champion whose face was splashed over celebrity glossies after her marriage to Ronaldo.

Marta beginning in 2000 would play for Vasco as well as Santa Cruz of Belo Horizonte as, in parallel, she began her international career. In 2004, she joined Umeå IK of Sweden, her current club side. In a wider world, Marta’s abilities and passions have gained much greater currency than they ever could have in Brazil. Curiously, though, the signature event in her own mind—after a list of achievements that, at 22, already includes a World Cup silver medal, two Olympic silver medals and two-time selection as FIFA Player of the Year—is Brazil’s triumph at the Pan American Games that it hosted in summer 07.

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