No soccer player, male or female, has won as many world player of the year awards as Brazil’s remarkable Marta. Not Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo or Brazil’s Ronaldo. And not Mia Hamm or Abby Wambach or any other female star. After being named the best women's player on earth five times, the 28-year-old Marta could win her sixth award when it’s announced in Zurich on Monday. (The other finalists are Wambach and Germany’s Nadine Kessler.)
Marta didn’t have her finest year in 2014, but she did produce perhaps the scariest highlight of the year, knifing through four U.S. defenders for her second goal in a 3-2 Brazil victory last month.
The goal showed that Marta is still capable of performing at the height of her powers, boasting a deadly combination of speed, imagination and pure scoring instinct.
Marta recently sat down with SI.com for an interview in New York City. In a room at The Standard hotel overlooking the Hudson River, she spoke about next summer’s Women’s World Cup, playing on artificial turf fields at Canada 2015, her quest to win her first major international title with Brazil and the up-and-down support for women’s soccer from the Brazilian federation.
Here’s our interview, edited for length and clarity:
SI.com: You’ve won World Player of the Year five times. No men’s player has ever done that -- not Lionel Messi, not Cristiano Ronaldo, not anybody. What is that like for you, to be the most decorated player, male or female?
Marta: I never stopped to think about this. I am really happy, of course; it is really rare to have had this opportunity and even no man has been able to do this. And we try to look at these examples, these cool things that we obtain during our career so that we can increasingly help women’s soccer, encourage it and pay more attention to women’s soccer.
SI.com: You’ve come close to winning the World Cup before, but you have not won it yet. Does this Brazil team have what it takes to win the World Cup next summer?
Marta: I have a very young team. My girls are extremely talented, but the team is young. I don’t have a clear idea of what could happen, but, without a doubt, our goal is always to get to the world final and win the title because, as you said, we have already been in very similar situations, but we didn’t make it. So I hope that this time we can win, but it will be constant work because we know we are going to face good teams that are very well-prepared, so we have to do something new this time.
SI.com: Tell me a little bit about the Brazil team. Who should we watch for at this World Cup?
Marta: We have a very young team. We have a new style of teamwork. We have a coach [Vadão] who has never worked with women’s soccer. It’s his first time; he’s really excited. He’s doing work to test the girls, in order to get to know them and create the perfect team. We have girls with enormous talent: for example, Andressa Alves; Debi, who plays in Norway. They are really talented young women who could help us enormously to get the world title, God willing.
SI.com: We’ve been following your career for more than ten years now, and we’ve gotten to know you. What would it mean to you personally if Brazil won the World Cup?
Marta: Without a doubt it would be the crown of what we’ve been trying to do all these years. And we’ve been so close in some situations, so it would be really important in order for us to have a better future in the game, in our country, so that we can give continuity, even if it’s slow in the process, but so we can move forward. So without a doubt, it would be really important for women’s soccer, if we can make it to the very end of the championship, and possibly a gold medal in 2016 [at the Rio Olympics].
SI.com: When people talk about the Brazil women’s national team, they often say: “Tremendous talent. Marta is the best player in the world, but they don’t get enough support from their federation.” Has that changed? Is there more support from your federation now, or no?
Marta: It’s a little better, but it’s not enough. It’s not that a high-level team needs to get to the championship to develop its best. It’s a work that has to be constant–not only for the team, but for the entire country, so that we can give opportunities to those girls who dream of getting onto the Brazilian national team and playing at the World Cup. This work has to be done very early, to give a little more support to those kids who want to play soccer in Brazil, to have more work options and structures.
SI.com: Let’s move back in time a little bit when you first started playing soccer. What’s your story about how you started in the game?
Marta: My story isn’t that different from the stories of many other girls. We always begin playing for fun, playing with friends on the street, in any space we can find close to home -- and I began this way too, playing with my cousins. Most of the kids at that time, and even today, were only interested in soccer, and I was another one.
SI.com: At what time in your life did you realize that you were really good at this sport?
Marta: I have always played with boys since the beginning, and sometimes with boys who were a little older than me -- and I noticed that I was always standing out. So when I got to that point, I noticed I was pretty good.
SI.com: You’re 28 years old now. You’ve been playing the game for many years. In what ways is your playing style different now? Has your game changed at all?
Marta: It is obvious that I can’t run for 90 minutes with the same intensity as when I was 20 to 18 years old, but I try to read the game situations a little better in order to bring in my rhythm, according to the opportunities that arise during the match. But my playing style is the same.
SI.com: When you look at the other teams at this World Cup, other than Brazil, which team do you think is the team to beat?
Marta: The story is always the same. The teams to beat are always the United States, Germany. France has a really good team. Japan, Sweden, but because of all the history, and all of these years always with very competitive games, really strong. It is always special to play against the United States.
SI.com: There is a long history of Brazil and the United States in the World Cup. Back in 2007, Brazil destroyed the United States in the semifinals, and then in 2011 the United States won in the quarterfinal. That’s a very famous game here in the United States. How did you view those games from your perspective?
Marta: Well, in 2007, we had a really good team. It was really competitive and we had worked together for a little more time, so we knew each other well. We played a beautiful match against the United States, but in the end we weren’t able to repeat the same outcome [in the loss in the final to Germany].
In 2011, the team was already a little different; there were some girls who hadn’t been there. In 2007, it was a strong team too; it was a high-quality team, but that detail in the last few minutes…. We always try hard so that the result tends to be positive for us; it wasn’t there at that moment, because we were winning two to one, and there were only 20 seconds left in the game, and then we committed an error that can’t happen, especially against the United States, and then it ended, and we let the game get to penalty shoot-out. And with penalty shoot-out you never know what can happen.
SI.com: This World Cup in Canada is set to have artificial turf fields, and there is a lot of controversy right now about that and whether the men’s World Cup would be played on artificial turf. A lot of the women’s players said it never would be. What do you think about playing this World Cup on artificial turf?
Marta: Well, I would like it to be on natural grass. [Artificial turf] is not ideal to play soccer. But I also can’t say that it’s a disaster to play on artificial turf; I play on it all the time in Sweden. But it’s an issue that involves a lot of people, and looking at it as a professional player, with a lot of teammates that don’t have this opportunity to always play on artificial grass, I am on their side. I would say that it has to be natural grass. Just as the men’s World Cup would almost certainly never be played on artificial turf, we wish it were the same for women.
SI.com: Will you be satisfied with your career if you don’t win a World Cup?
Marta: I cannot say that I won’t be satisfied in case I don’t win one. If I knew that we went out with everything to get a good outcome, but if it wasn’t enough, if the opposing teams were better, well, then it's something that we have to accept. But I would like to be able to end my career winning the world championship, without a doubt. But there’s still a little ways to go, maybe [in 2015].
SI.com: How many more years do you want to play this game?
Marta: I am going to answer: as long as I’m feeling well and developing my game in a way that is … I wouldn’t say “excellent,” because there is always something missing -- but at a very competitive level, I will continue playing.