Marcelo had already played in and won three Champions League finals as he prepared to face Liverpool in 2018. At that point, he was already one of the most decorated players of his generation, with four La Liga titles, two Copa del Rey triumphs and three FIFA Club World Cups.
By his own admission, nerves are ‘normal’ in football. But, ahead of meeting Liverpool in Kyiv, the Brazilian experienced something that felt more like ‘suffocating’, for this was a chance to win a third consecutive Champions League and create history.
The weight of pressure attached to it is a big burden to bear.
“Everything had started the night before the final. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I was thinking only of the match,” Marcelo explained for The Players’ Tribune, even revealing that he started biting his fingernails again, a couple of years after his wife had finally got him to stop.
For Marcelo, you’re not a ‘real person’ if you don’t even a little bit anxious before a final, yet he found that feeling at its ‘most intense’ before facing Liverpool.
“When you have a chance to make history, you feel that weight,” he said. “But for some reason, I was really feeling it. I had never had such intense anxiety before, so I didn’t know what was happening. I thought about calling for the doctor, but I was worried that he wouldn’t let me play.”
No club before Real in 2017 had ever retained the Champions League trophy – AC Milan had last won back-to-back European Cups in 1989 and 1990. So, reaching another final in 2018 was the chance for more history, because it was the 1970s that last time any team had won three in a row. It had never been close to being achieved in the Champions League era.
Marcelo wanted to create ‘history’, but also inspire kids in Brazil – maybe so that some would even adopt his signature hairstyle – the same way Roberto Carlos once inspired him.
What’s more, he detailed that being on that stage was like a ‘fairytale’ that few can imagine becoming reality.
“When I finally stepped onto the grass, I was still having trouble breathing,” he admitted. “But I thought, ‘If I have to die out here tonight, f*** it. I’ll die.’ Maybe that sounds crazy to some people, but you have to understand what this moment means to me.”
Marcelo admits that he couldn’t risk his pre-match anxiety getting the better of him in Kyiv because he simply had to play. As much as creating history, he also felt he had something to prove.
“A few days before the final a former Real Madrid player had said something about me on TV that stuck in my head,” the player said.
“He’d been asked what he thought about the final, and he said, ‘I think Marcelo should buy a poster of Mohamed Salah, put it up on his wall, and pray to it every night.’
“After 12 years and three Champions League trophies, he disrespected me like this on live TV. This comment was meant to sink me. But it gave me so much motivation.”
It ended in glory. Gareth Bale's double - one a spectacular overhead kick - decided the fixture, and Marcelo ended with winning his fourth European Cup in five years.