Marcelo on his Real Madrid trophies (25!) and and which teammates most surprised him
The most successful player in 's history isn't Alfredo Di Stefano, Raul Gonzalez, or . It's Marcelo Vieira da Silva Junior: you know him as . The left-back won a club record 25 trophies -- six LaLiga titles, five Champions Leagues, two Copas del Rey, five Spanish Supercopas, three UEFA Super Cups and four Club World Cups -- in 16 years at Madrid before joining Olympiakos in the summer (he's since left the Greek club). is next on the list with 24.
Only 11 players in Madrid's long and storied history have played more than Marcelo's 546 games for the club, and there's only one non-Spanish player among them: again, Benzema. It's rarefied company.
In terms of the position Marcelo played, "left-back" never did him justice either. If Benzema called himself "a No. 9, with the soul of a No. 10," then Marcelo was a No. 3 with the soul of a No. 10, just as likely to appear in the opposition box as he would defending his own.
He arrived in Madrid in January 2007 and it wasn't an easy move for an 18-year-old Brazilian to make. The shadow of the great Roberto Carlos, then in his final season at the club, loomed large.
The road to becoming Madrid captain and a club legend wasn't easy, either. Marcelo had to overcome doubts from coaches -- Juande Ramos and Manuel Pellegrini picked him further up the pitch to minimise his defensive responsibilities -- and competition from teammates viewed as more reliable, like Gabriel Heinze and Fabio Coentrao. Even an early highlight -- his goal in the 2014 Champions League final, putting Real 3-1 up against Atletico Madrid in extra time -- came after he was introduced as a second-half substitute.
By the time Madrid's next Champions League trophies came around, there was no doubting Marcelo's place in the team. He was key to the 2016 final win -- scoring in the penalty shootout -- and in the 2017 and 2018 finals, with assists in both, by then established as one of coach Zinedine Zidane's most trusted lieutenants.
From there, his role diminished. Santiago Solari dropped him for , the Brazilian singled out as one of several senior players who needed to step aside for a new generation. When Zidane returned in 2019, he personally requested the signing of . The message was clear: Marcelo's days were numbered. Still, he was named club captain in 2021 when Ramos left, and after a year on the bench, lifted the LaLiga and Champions League trophies for one last time, confirming his departure after Madrid's 1-0 win over in Paris in May.
Don't let his last years at the Bernabeu, when fitness was an issue and starts were few, fool you. At his peak, Marcelo was as creative, dynamic and unpredictable a full-back as Madrid had ever seen, a playmaker disguised as a defender. Roberto Carlos called him the greatest left-back of all time, and who are we to argue?
The Brazilian remains closely connected to Madrid as his eldest son, Enzo, is one of the jewels of the academy, scoring goals for fun for the under-14s. Earlier this year, , winning trophies, gifted teammates and future plans.
Editor's note: This interview has been lightly edited for content and clarity.
Marcelo lifts the Champions League trophy last May -- the 14th top-tier European title for Real Madrid -- at the city's famed Plaza de Cibeles. GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images
ESPN: What was your childhood like?
Marcelo: It was tough, like a lot of kids who want to be footballers. But I was very, very happy. I had a lot of fun as a kid, I had a lot of fun with my family. I still enjoy myself like a kid. I have my friends who've been my real friends since I was little.
The truth is I was lucky to be able to enjoy my childhood. It wasn't easy, we didn't have everything that I wanted. But my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, never let me want for anything. So I'm lucky.
ESPN: What did you learn from your childhood?
Marcelo: I think the most important thing was to be able to enjoy myself when I had nothing. So now, how am I not going to enjoy myself when I have everything? I mean, being lucky enough to have a career, to play football which is what I like the most, to be healthy, for my family to be healthy and stable...
If I could enjoy myself as a kid, I'd take that forward throughout my life.
ESPN: Do you look back and you say, "I did it? I won 25 trophies. I'm the most decorated player in the history of Real Madrid, Europe's most decorated club."
Marcelo: I don't think much about the future, but I don't think much about what I did or didn't do either. I always live in the moment, and the moment is now. I look back right now, and the truth is I can only be grateful to everyone around me, because they've always helped me to be myself. One thing I didn't do: there's a lie in football in general, it makes you think that you're more than you really are...
ESPN: Does it give you that feeling sometimes?
Marcelo: I think it's normal, but there's always somebody who has to tell you the truth and keep your feet on the ground. I think that's normal. A kid who at 18, at 20, wins a trophy with Real Madrid. It's normal that you feel like that. Hey, I'm a Real Madrid player, I'm a player, I'm a player ... you know? Then there's a person -- your friend, your wife, your family -- who says, "Hey, come back down to earth, you still have to be yourself."
ESPN: There's a video you posted on Instagram that's really moving. You're waiting to come out for the celebrations at the Bernabeu. You're absolutely overcome with emotion. You're hanging onto the Champions League trophy. Take me to that moment.
Marcelo: I think it was one of the physios who filmed that video. I told him to film it because that moment was incredible. It was special. I forgot about everything else. It was just the trophy and me. The [stadium announcer] was speaking, saying "Marcelo, who's won..." When he started talking and I lifted my head, I thought back to the entire season.
I already knew that I wasn't going to stay, and that my fantastic time at Real Madrid was coming to an end. And I started to cry, crying without being able to stop, and I said to myself: What are you doing? You've got to start walking. And I couldn't. I lost the strength in my legs. I crouched down, I thought, I cried. I said, "This can't be happening." I think that's where I realised, in that moment, that my time at Real Madrid had ended. Right there. I hadn't, before that moment.
And then I thought about my son. My cycle is ending, and now my son's is beginning. Let's see if he gets into the first team. And a lot of things. Stop, stop, stop, I have to walk, I'll have to speak out there. And the crowd cheering.
Moments like that are priceless. The satisfaction of having delivered. Leaving Real Madrid by the front door, with people respecting you, not because of winning trophies, but because of what I've given to the club with my work, commitment, respect. That's the biggest thing for me.
It was amazing. And the fans already knew that I wasn't going to stay. They were saying "Marcelo, stay!" but they knew. I was calm, happy, like look -- that's it, it's over, let's move on.
Joined by Real Madrid president Fiorentino Perez, Marcelo stands with the 25 trophies he won with the club at his farewell ceremony in 2022. Antonio Villalba/Real Madrid via Getty Images
ESPN: What does Real Madrid mean in the life of Marcelo?
Marcelo: I can talk about what it means in my life, but not just my life, in the lives of a lot of people who aren't even close to Real Madrid. Kids who buy a Madrid shirt because they know Madrid are huge. The history that Real Madrid has. It's something we could talk about for half an hour, but for me it means a lot more than that. Why? Because I grew up here. It's home.
I arrived at 18. I learnt Real Madrid's values. I became one of Real Madrid's captains and I learnt from Raul, [Iker] Casillas, Michel Salgado, Sergio Ramos. I learnt from those people who -- we're talking about [people like] Raul -- he's living Real Madrid history. Or Michel Salgado. When you talk about these names, that's Real Madrid history.
I learnt from these people. So I know, I understand what happens inside. For me it represents responsibility, pride. Real Madrid is a really big institution: it isn't just football. They teach you values, they help kids who need help, women, men, it's huge. So it means a lot to me.
ESPN: Sometimes in life transitions are abrupt, and sometimes they're gradual. How was your last year at Madrid?
Marcelo: It was difficult, but then, by the end, I realised it was easy. I mean, I always wanted to play, every season. And at Madrid, even if you're playing well, there will always be competition. In all my years at Madrid, I've had big competition in my position: Theo [Hernandez], [Fabio] Coentrao, [Gabriel] Heinze, [Royston] Drenthe, Ferland [Mendy] -- These are players that make you say, "Wow!" I've had to fight every year to be able to play and say that I could play. But even so, I knew that season that I wasn't the starter in my position.
So in my last year I wasn't playing and I said to myself, "What can I do?" Because in my career I've never thought, "I'm going to play, I'm going to win trophies, to earn money." No. I've always wanted to leave a legacy. So I said, "What can I do to help the team?" Because of course I was pissed off, because I wanted to play. If a player tells you they're happy on the bench, they're lying. It's impossible.
You're not there to help your teammate to play and you, sat there on the bench. It's impossible. You can compete, you can help, but you want to play. So I've always tried to help as best I can.
ESPN: What did you do? Because there's something great that you said, that you understood that there was a way you could really help the team, even though you weren't playing.
Marcelo: I think, I can't tell you 100 percent, but I think with my way of being, my spirit, I brought a lot to the team. I'm not saying we won because I was there. No. But I won it too. I'm telling you, it's really annoying, it's really difficult to be the captain of the team and to be on the bench and see your teammates playing and you're not playing, but you have to train the next day. You have to tell your son: "No, the boss isn't picking me." But why? There's a lot of things. That's why I say that for me, this season was the best, because I learnt a lot as a person.
You have to keep going, because in football there are a lot of ups and downs. If you get stuck in a good moment, it's bad. If you get stuck in a bad moment, it's bad too. You always need to find a balance, try to improve, try to do something different, because in the end, that's football. That's what I've learnt from inside football.
ESPN: You arrived young, at 18. But you had a process of winning your place. With and , from one day to another, they're in. How do you explain that?
Marcelo: I think there are a lot of role models in football, good and bad. That will never change. You can choose to leave a legacy. You can choose to just play football and earn money, or you can choose to enjoy yourself and not care. You choose. Work, talent and patience. And for me, you need a lot of luck too, to not get injured, to have a coach who helps you, to have a club like Madrid, which makes you bigger as a person, not as a player but maturing as a person.
But you need a lot of patience. Look at it now. It looks like they've been at Madrid for 15 years.
ESPN: Which teammate has surprised you most?
Marcelo: I've been lucky to play at Madrid, so I've seen the best of the best.
Let's see, in terms of surprises, when I didn't expect much, or a top player who did even more, there are three players that for me were ... not surprises, but rather, "How can they do that?" One of them is . I don't know what goes through his head, because he's always in his own world, but the way he controls the ball. ... It's so hard to control a ball, facing your own goal, with a player behind you, and he manages to beat the player with a touch. That's something I've never seen in my life. Only Toni Kroos does that. It's Toni Kroos. You say Toni Kroos, and no other player has his style.
Another one is Rodrygo. I've been lucky to play with him for a few years, well three years, but for me that's a lot. Rodrygo... he's the typical player where you say, "He was born with this." He's a natural, he does things, dribbling, that I've never seen. For example, Vini dribbles, he nutmegs you or something, or does something and you say, "My word!" But Rodrygo beats a man in a certain way -- it's so simple, with his body, it's like he's dancing, without touching the ball, it's amazing. I'd never seen that.
Marcelo has played with Real Madrid legends such as Cristiano Ronaldo but says Toni Kroos' ability is something special. Octavio Passos/Getty Images
Rodrygo is deceptively quick. Of course you've got on one side, behind you, ... and Rodrygo isn't as fast as them, but he's quick with the ball. Isco was the same, he was much faster with the ball [than without]. But Rodrygo doesn't get nervous in front of the goalkeeper. And for me that's very difficult. It surprised me, because a player at 30, with experience at Real Madrid, maybe doesn't have that yet. And he's a 22-year-old kid. That surprised me. I could be wrong, maybe I don't get it, but...
The other one is . I don't know. There are no words. We're talking about a 37-year-old player. But I'm not talking about his age, age doesn't matter, it's just a number, it's what he does with the ball, what he does for the team, what he does without the ball. I'm not talking about a game, but in training you can't imagine what Luka can do with the ball.
ESPN: We've talked a lot about players and not much about coaches. You've had every kind, every style. Some have been fighters, some more calm, leaders with small gestures. Who's the [best] coach?
Marcelo: I've had a few. I had one in Brazil, Josue Teixeira, who was the one who picked me. I was 16. It happens a lot in Brazil when a coach goes, someone is appointed until another one arrives, you call them interim. He said to me, "Come with me to train, you're going to play tomorrow." Just like that. He'd seen me train and play with the youth team. I played with him, and then another coach arrived and I was back in the academy. Later, when he was coach again, I went back up [to the first team] at 17. I played, and I scored my first goal. For me, he was amazing. Taking a 16-year-old kid up to the first team...
ESPN: In terms of dressing room talks, who would you pick?
Marcelo: Talks? Jose Mourinho. He was an expert in getting inside your head. Not was, is. For me he's top. He changed my defending, being more aggressive, fighting. He changed other players too, doing things that they couldn't do well. He put the idea in my head that I had to be like that. And I wanted to do my job well for him. In terms of talking to the players, changing them, [he was the best].
Marcelo states that Jose Mourinho's dressing room talks were among the best he received. Denis Doyle/Getty Images
ESPN: In terms of managing a group, who would you pick?
Marcelo: Zinedine Zidane. There was a time, I think it was in 2016-17, and [goalkeeper] played 25 games. And was happy. A keeper plays 25 games and the other one isn't pissed off. And then Alvaro Morata came in, came in, went out, came in. And tough games. A game I remember was against , or against . He takes out and brings in . That's managing the team well, trying to keep everyone happy.
Also, Zizou never brought up what he'd done in football. Never. That's when we admired him the most. When you've won everything that he's won, and you never say it. Even that lifted our morale.
ESPN: Finally, you had Carlo Ancelotti. What would you take from Carlo?
Marcelo: I'd take his calm way of being. There's a photo from when Zizou was his assistant, a photo that I even have on my phone, when Sergio scored a header, Zizou is celebrating and Ancelotti is there chewing his gum like it's nothing. That calmness, that inner calm. I'd take that. Keeping your feet on the ground.