From Bundesliga star to drug prisoner: The crazy story of Brazil's Marcelo Pletsch

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The defender was a cult figure in Germany because of his no-nonsense approach to football, but now finds himself behind bars

A special unit of the Brazilian miltary police received a tip from an anonymous source. As a result, they surveyed a white truck and searched it, finding exactly what they had hoped to find: almost 800kg of marijuana. Three men were arrested.

One of them was Marcelo Pletsch, a former Bundesliga player who had lined out for Borussia Monchengladbach and Kaiserslautern. His haulage company owned the truck and Brazilian media reports claimed he was the head of the gang of drug dealers.

That was November 2015 and Pletsch was placed in custody. Less than a year later, a judge sentenced him to nine years and two years in prison. Pletsch protested and continued to claim he was innocent, but the adjudication was not changed.

At 23, he had moved from Portuguese club DF Oliveira to Germany to join Gladbach in 1999. He had a Brazilian passport but a German name as his great-grandparents came from the Rhineland, specifically the small towns of Jettenbach and Schwedelbach. The distance from the Sugar Loaf Mountain to the Copacabana was about as far away as Pletsch's playing style was from that of his famous compatriots Ronaldinho, Ronaldo or Rivaldo.

Instead of being a technical player, Pletsch always played with a steely determination. He was an uncompromising, simple footballer who was never afraid to go hard into a tackle. His debut for Gladbach was a disappointment: a 2-1 defeat to Alemannia Aachen where he was substituted at half-time for the club's current sporting director Max Eberl. At the time, they sat bottom of the second division, having been relegated from the Bundesliga a few months earlier.

Thanks to Pletsch, who bounced back and fought his way into a regular starting spot, the Foals turned things around and just missed out on promotion. A year later, in 2001, Pletsch and Gladbach were in the Bundesliga. He became a cult figure in Germany, mainly because he did not play like a traditional Brazilian footballer.

Hans Meyer, one of his coaches at Gladbach, once said to Doppelpass about him: "He can't play football." But the fact that the coaches relied on such a limited centre-back illustrates just how strong a fighter Pletsch was.

Pletsch played a total of 150 competitive matches in six years with Borussia, and the fans still think of him fondly despite his exit from the club still leaving a sour taste.

Head coach Dick Advocaat benched him at the start of the second half of the 2004-05 season and then forced him to turn out for the reserves in the fifth tier when the defender complained about his lack of playing time. When he was given another chance after being brought on against Bochum,  he cost the Foals a lead with a last-minute own goal. This caused sporting director Christian Hochstatter to explode.

"I hear of a player saying: 'Hopefully we lose 4-0 and then the coach and sporting director are gone.' Then I see Pletsch involved in two goals against Bochum. You have to protect the club from such people," Hochstatter told ZDF. Pletsch was suspended and that match proved to be his last for the club. After he left, he hit back: "Hochstatter is a left-wing snake - and Borussia has become a sh*tty club!"

Marcelo Pletsch Borussia Monchengladbach

He later admitted that he regretted those words, telling 11Freunde: "I was very angry at the time, that's true."

"Now I know that I overreacted," he explained, before going on the offensive once more. "There were simply not enough players who could hold their own in a relegation battle. Fighter types. Guys with balls."

In the summer of 2005, Pletsch moved to Kaiserslautern. In the first half of the season he was a regular, but in the second he hardly played at all. In the end, he was relegated with the team and left the Bundesliga. Later, he'd say: "Nowhere was it as good as in Germany."

After Germany, he played for Panionios in Greece, Omonia Nicosia in Cyprus and Vojvodina Novi Sad in Serbia. Ewald Lienen, who knew him from Gladbach, wanted to bring him back to join Arminia Bielefeld. "Unfortunately the request came in two days before the transfer window closed, so my club was a bit annoyed and the paperwork could not be done in time."

In 2011, Pletsch hung up his boots and opened a pig farm near his birthplace in Toledo, in the southwest of Brazil near the Paraguayan border. It is not known how successful that business was, but just four years later his truck was seized by the police.

Pletsch has already served almost three-and-a-half years, spending much of his sentence in the notorious Cascavel State Prison which often makes headlines due to prisoner revolts. He could be released on parole for good conduct in January 2022, and will be out by February 2025 if he serves his full sentence.

The 23 Borussia Monchengladbach fans who once founded the Marcelo-Pletsch-Fussballgott-Fanclub (MPFF) will probably be relieved. As they once aptly wrote about the former cult footballer: "MP is someone who prefers to work on booting the ball away rather than being a regular on the tanning bed or having a pedicure - in short, he's one of us - zero football talent but with the heart of a lion!"

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