May 22, 2014. Fluminense hosted Sao Paulo in a Brazilian top flight clash at the Maracana Stadium in Rio. With 57 minutes played and the game finely balanced at 2–2, an 18-year-old centre-back replaced Elivelton, another centre-back, for Fluminense. That Fluminense didn’t concede another goal in the remaining minutes and ran out 5–2 winners don’t tell a lot about Marlon Santos, the aforementioned 18-year-old, but that was how things started falling into place for the Brazilian.
Marlon is now at Barcelona, signed by the Spanish champions on a one-year loan deal with an option to buy, and made his first start with the first team Wednesday night in a pre-season friendly against Leicester City in Stockholm. The tall defender was barely troubled by a Leicester attack that saw very little of the ball in the face of Barca’s continued onslaught, but showed enough agility, positioning, passing, composure and covering to suggest he could have a future at Camp Nou.
Born in the city of Duque de Caxias in Rio, Marlon has often been compared to Thiago Silva in the sense that both were formed at Fluminense and both are similar in how they go about their business on the pitch. Silva’s influence on Marlon’s career has been somewhat profound given the now 20-year-old considers the PSG captain as his idol and reference point. While Marlon has been brought in to strengthen Barca’s B team, any involvement for the youngster in the senior team next season shouldn’t come as a surprise considering his assured pre-season displays.
The arrival of French centre-back Samuel Umtiti over the summer may put to bed any ideas about Marlon jumping the queue from Barca B to the first team, but with the amount of games throughout the season the club have to play and considering the unassuredness of the likes of Jeremy Mathieu and about-to-be-transferred Thomas Vermaelen mainly due to age and injuries, might likely mean Barca will once again rely heavily on Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano while carefully integrating Umtiti.
Which, in a way, opens a window of opportunity for Marlon, whose appearances for the Blaugranas have been largely impressive and offered a sense of collective calm. Barca haven’t conceded a goal when Marlon has been on the pitch, and stats like that might not tell the whole story, but nevertheless suggests that Marlon offers the team a solid back-up if and when they need. Plus, in his absence due to his trip back to Brazil to finalise the paperwork to get his work permit, the Catalans were annihilated by Liverpool (4-0) in Wembley on Saturday.
The current Barca side possess some of the best players on the planet, and if Marlon manages to break into a side filled with stars, the day isn’t far when he’ll line up alongside his idol Silva in a Brazil shirt.
“I hope to develop both as a footballer and a person. I want to adapt as quickly as possible so that I can make the most of my opportunity. It’s a golden opportunity.” Marlon’s words upon signing on the dotted lines at Barca suggest the struggle in wait for him at his new club.
Whether Marlon fulfils his promise and force Barca into signing him permanently next summer remains to be seen, but judging by what he’s produced in his short time at the club, he looks to be a good catch for the long term.