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Life after Marta: What is Brazil's future without the game's greatest ever player?

12:00 PM EDT 6/10/20
Marta Brazil Women 2019
The country's icons are entering the twilight of their careers, but there's hope the next generation will succeed where they fell short

It’s almost 13 years since Marta announced herself on the world stage, beginning a footballing journey in which she would become the greatest player in the history of the women’s game.

It was at the 2007 Women’s World Cup that the brilliant Brazilian captured everyone’s attention. She won the tournament’s top-scorer and best player awards while leading her team to the final – beating the United States 4-0 in the semis.

She was the star of a new generation for Brazil, a generation that, despite being defeated by Germany in the final, looked certain to become a true force for years to come.

Fast forward to today, though, and Brazil have failed to hit those heights again.

They were eliminated in the last 16 at last summer’s tournament in what will be one of Marta’s final World Cup games, with her now 34 years old.

For Formiga, Brazil’s 42-year-old midfielder who recently signed a new one-year deal with Paris Saint-Germain, it was probably her last.

It’s also probably one of Cristiane’s last, the striker, who became the oldest player to score a Women’s World Cup hat-trick last summer, having just celebrated her 35th birthday.

Marta sensed the importance of the occasion and - emotional as ever, fighting back the tears - she capitalised.

“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,” she told cameras on the pitch, issuing a message to the next generation.

"Women's football depends on you to survive. Think about it, value it more.

“We're asking for support. You have to cry at the beginning and smile at the end.”

That this trio, who were all part of Brazil’s runners-up in 2007, will likely retire without having been able to call themselves world champions at any point is a real shame.

The attitude of Brazil's football association (CBF) has failed their generation with a lack of investment. Had they been given more support after that incredible tournament in 2007, the modern history of the game could look so much different.

But the question is no longer what could have happened. It’s about what will happen next.

What will Brazil's next generation of footballers look like?

Off the back of the 2019 World Cup, Brazil made a statement.

Pia Sundhage, former coach of the USWNT and of her native Sweden, a coach with an incredible CV full of titles, was appointed as their new manager.

“Brazil is a fantastic football country, full of talented players whom I look forward to getting to know and work with,” she said.

“The national team is in an exciting phase right now - you need, at least to some extent, a change of generation.”

Sundhage has plenty of experience working with the big names and the proven winners. But she also has a fantastic track record with young players.

She was in charge of Sweden’s Under-17s before taking the Brazil job and is responsible for giving senior international debuts to some of the game’s biggest names.

Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath and Becky Sauerbrunn are all among the many names that were first put on a USWNT team sheet by Sundhage. Chelsea captain Magdalena Eriksson is one of several who were given their first shot with Sweden by her too.

“I love Pia. I loved my time with her,” Heath told USA Today back in 2015, while Morgan remembers the 60-year-old as someone who “believed in [her] from day one”.

The coach has her critics, of course. She is known to be extremely stubborn with her starting XIs, but she will give those young players a chance if they deserve it.

Since coming into the job with Brazil, whose squad had the second-oldest average age at the World Cup, Sundhage has already called up 18 players who are 25 or younger.

In players like Ludmila and Geyse, who have been free-scoring in Spain for Atletico Madrid and Madrid CFF respectively, she has the talent at her disposal to step up and shine when given those chances.

There is even more coming through the youth ranks now too.

Brazil’s Under-17s and Under-20s have struggled at World Cup tournaments, but have reigned supreme on the continent for many years. The CBF has also recently hired new, female coaches for both teams, which Sundhage has openly praised.

While the investment might not have gone into the team when it should have, all those years ago, the value of women’s football in Brazil is rising.

Of course, there are still issues. After all, it’s only three years since a number of players temporarily retired from the team after Emily Lima, their first-ever female coach, was sacked. But things are moving in the right direction.

It’s too late to ensure that Marta retires with a World Cup winners’ medal, but it will at least ensure that her passion, with her words and with the ball, is not for nothing.