Updated: Jan 1, 2020
I can’t remember when I discovered who Marta was. I only became a women’s football fan during the 2015 Women’s World Cup, but when my supervisor at Orlando City approached me the following year and asked if I knew who Marta was, I said “Of course.” When asked if she might be worth pursuing as an addition to the newly formed Orlando Pride, I’m pretty sure I said something like, “Uh, duh???”
I was a 20-year-old writing intern at the time, so I’m not going to pretend like my comment had much of an influence on the final decision to bring Marta to Orlando. When she finally did arrive, it was an event. Fans went to the airport to greet her. The next morning, she did a press conference that I worked and when she came out, it felt like I was in the presence of royalty. She spoke with enthusiasm and passion, hiding the exhaustion I know she felt after a long flight from Sweden and little time in a hotel.
But once the cameras were put away and the pageantry over, Marta was just… Marta. A reporter friend of mine who was also Brazilian decided she was going to say hello while Marta was mingling after the press conference. I don’t know what they were saying, but they stood laughing and chatting in Portuguese. Marta hugged my friend before she left and that’s when we realized the greatest women’s footballer of all time was actually just a normal human.
I’d have many moments during my time with Orlando City when I realized how lucky I was to get to watch Marta play. She’d go bolting down the field, with a little spin move to trick her opponents, and I just knew that for the rest of my life I’d be talking about how I got to see one of the greatest footballers ever week in and week out.
When she published her letter to her 14-year-old self in The Player’s Tribune, I got a different look at Marta. And I was grateful to be in her presence for a whole new set of reasons.
What is a legacy?
Marta has more World Cup goals than any man or woman. She has won the Player of the Year title six times. She will likely never win a World Cup or an Olympic title with her team, as her time on the Brazilian national team will soon come to an end. But she has countless domestic titles and has given us more moments of magic than we ever could have imagined.
But I don’t think Marta’s real fear is retiring without a major international title. I don’t think Marta needs anything else to confirm to herself and to the world how impressive she is.
I think Marta’s fear is losing the Brazilian federation.
I think Marta’s fear is that a 14-year-old girl now, walking the same path she did all those years ago, struggles just as much to find opportunities to succeed. That what progress players like she and Formiga and Cristiane did make with the Brazilian federation might vanish with their retirement.
The Round of 16 match against France was a painful match for me. I cheered for France, but I couldn’t stand the thought of never seeing Marta in this tournament again. In the end, it was a hard fought match that gave me numerous mini heart attacks. France went through on a beautiful Amandine Henry goal in extra time. I was screaming with jubilation, refusing to think about the fact that Marta’s World Cup career might be over.
A little while later, I noticed the interview.
“It’s wanting more. It’s training more. It’s taking care of yourself more,” an impassioned Marta said in Portuguese on the field after the loss. “It’s being ready to play 90 plus 30 minutes. This is what I ask of the girls. There’s not going to be a Formiga forever. There’s not going to be a Marta forever. There’s not going to be a Cristiane. The women’s game depends on you to survive. So think about that. Value it more. Cry in the beginning so you can smile in the end.”
The thing about a legacy is… you won’t know what it is until you’re gone. As they say in Hamilton, “It’s planting seeds in a garden you’ll never get to see.”
Marta, Cristiane, Formiga, and others have been tending to that garden for years. But unlike their French or American or English counterparts, the legends of Brazil still don’t know that the game will outlive them in their country.
I don’t know what Marta’s legacy will be.
What I can say is that anyone who has watched Marta has inevitably been inspired. I can only imagine what she means to a generation of girls and women watching football in Brazil. She means more to me than I can put into words here.
“Cry in the beginning so you can smile in the end.”
Thank you, Marta. For everything.