Northern latitudes helped make Marta a player of Sol importance

At today’s FIFA World Player of the Year Gala in Zürich, Marta confirmed her decision in a press conference before announcement of the awards. Marta outpolled Brazil teammate Cristiane, Birgit Prinz (Germany), Nadine Angerer (Germany) and Kelly Smith (England) to win the women’s honor for the third straight year. Cristiane said she would join the WPS Chicago franchise.

The move to Umeå marked a profound shift in Marta’s football career. Graciano in Você é mulher, Marta! (You Are a Woman, Marta!) writes eloquently that she had passed “from ignored to photographed. From excluded to admitted. From ‘macho woman’ to lady.”

From a nation in which women’s football had been banned into the 1980s, Marta staked the most critical stage of her athletic development to the so-called benevolent socialism of Sweden. This communitarian impulse finds expression in some 22,000 sport clubs that have nurtured female athletes—but not without hiccups. Jonny Hjelm and Eva Olofsson in their survey of Swedish women’s football note that in the 1970s Swedish scientists investigated alleged connections between “hard blows to the chest region” and breast cancer. There was no connection, researchers found.

The city of Umeå started the country’s first women’s football league in 1950. Four teams—two korplag or company sides, two composed of handball players—competed for the title of Umemästarrinnorna, Umeå women’s champions. The games attracted up to 100 spectators. The league, for unknown reasons, ended before the 1952 season, leaving women’s football to develop through exhibitions against “old-boys’ sides” until organized play restarted in the ’60s. (For more background on women’s football in Sweden, see 31 May 05.)

Interviews with journalists Bråstedt (Stockholm) and Ruuth (Umeå) on Jan 8. (25:09) Download »

“Umeå gave me five wonderful years,” Marta, with emotion, said at her Jan 12 press conference in Opernhaus Zürich.

She leaves a trail of Marta wannabes, both in Sweden and Brazil, practicing her rendition of the Zinédine Zidane pirouette. Brazilian media now publicize “new Martas” such as 15-year-old Sabrina Aurèlio of Santos. An O Globo video shows Aurèlio playing futsal, juggling in flip-flops and wearing the number 10 for her local side.

In retrospect, Marta’s decision to venture into the world—into a city, in Graciano’s words, of “blonde college students”—could not have been more fortuitous. She came under guidance of then Umeå director Roland Arnqvist and coach Andrée Jeglertz. Arnqvist, according to Bråstedt, provided a “social base” for the prodigy. The persistence of Odin Ramos Pinto Barbosa Ferreira, a native of the Cape Verde Islands and Portuguese speaker, had made the unlikely move possible. Marta would become acclimated with his help and that of his wife, Grethel, and daughter Joana, who also played at Umeå. The Sveriges Television production Marta—Pelés kusin (Marta—Pelé’s Cousin) shows how Marta was assisted in settling in—the documentary films her catching her first fish, something she would not have experienced in her hometown of Dois Riachos (meaning “Two Streams,” which are usually dry).

Prefiguring the dramatics of the recent October-to-January transfer negotiations (see timeline), orchestrated by high-powered agent Farah, those who remember Marta’s angst over the trek to Umeå tell Graciano of similar avoidance, silence, tears and, finally, faith in meu sonho (my dream).

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