Whenever heated water-cooler debates arrive at the topic of central defenders, the same names always seem to crop up.
Why doesn’t that of Marquinhos get mentioned more?
PSG’s skipper has evolved into one of the planet’s most consistent performers to the point where his influence can no longer be ignored. We’re going to dissect that influence for club and country, with the aid of AI Abacus statistics.
🇧🇷 Brilliant for Brazil
Marquinhos and co. shouldered an awful lot of national pressure at the Rio Olympic Games in 2016. The Gold Medal match against Germany went all the way to penalties, a shootout settled by the nerveless Neymar, then of Barcelona and now a teammate of Marquinhos at PSG.
Netflix’s docuseries “Neymar: The Perfect Chaos” cuts to Marquinhos and how he was feeling at that exact moment just before Neymar stepped up to the spot with the weight of a football-mad nation on his shoulders. He laughingly looked into the camera and said that he told Neymar “it’s all you bro” to which Ney replied, “it’s you guys too!”
That camaraderie that has developed between two of PSG’s most senior figures is paying dividends on the pitch, whether the pair are wearing PSG’s trendy Air Jordan inspired kits or the iconic canary yellow of Brazil. At Copa América 2019, Marquinhos slotted a penalty in a shootout against Paraguay after their quarterfinal ended 0-0.
He kept a clean sheet against Leo Messi, Lautaro Martínez and Kun Agüero in the Seleção’s 2-0 semifinal victory over their great South American rivals Argentina. Brazil then beat Peru 3-1 in the final. That goal they conceded was the only one shipped throughout the entire tournament. That’s some record.
Brazil wasn’t able to defend its Copa title in 2021 but they’ll be one of the favourites to go all the way at Qatar 2022. At the time of writing, FIFA ranks them as the world’s second-best side.
☄️ Undoubted pedigree from a young age
PSG parted with €31.4m back in 2013 for then-teenage defensive midfielder Marquinhos from Roma, where he spent just a solitary season, and he’s now one of the game’s finest operators at centre-back and the club captain at Parc des Princes.
It all started for Marquinhos as an eight-year-old in 2002 when he joined the youth setup of Brazilian top-flight side Corinthians, located in the Tatuapé district of São Paulo. He made his Brazilian Serie A debut in May 2012, six days after his 18th birthday.
He would only make six appearances in total for the Corinthians first team before Italian giants Roma came calling; his potential to excel at the top level was already that obvious. But he didn’t move to Italy’s capital city before he got to hang a Copa Libertadores winner’s medal around his neck. Curiously, Marquinhos wore the number 10 jersey during that tournament. Brazilian club sides have always been a little quirky in that regard and this is unlikely to ever change. One thing was certain though – we were dealing with a rare talent.
🔮 Marquinhos’ intangibles
What a bunch of raw data and statistics isn’t quite able to communicate are the intangible qualities that make a player so effective and popular with his teammates and coaches. Marquinhos has shown time and again that he is the man for the big occasion at PSG, coming up with vital goals in knockout environments, especially in the Champions League.
That big match temperament, or BMT, is an indispensable quality. It was Marquinhos who struck in the 90th minute against Atalanta in the revised format of the 2020 Champions League quarterfinals to keep PSG’s hopes alive after being on the brink of elimination, and it was he who opened the scoring against RB Leipzig in the semis.
Natural leadership is also a quality that simply doesn’t grow on trees, but he possesses it in spades. A mainstay for club and country, Marquinhos’ teammates now rely upon him to lead the way and the 27-year-old thrives under that type of pressure.
🤨 Something of a statistical anomaly
Speaking of raw data and statistics, we spoke to our friends at AI Abacus who helped us to draw up a simple player profile for Marquinhos, based on his outstanding player traits, using their sophisticated modelling and extensive databases. This exercise produced some interesting results.
Marquinhos is a fine physical specimen even though he only stands at 6’0″ tall, which isn’t particularly tall for a modern defender. A naturally gifted athlete, his major strengths seem to be physical ones, even though one of the standout elements of his game (on a qualitative level and aside from statistics) is that he’s versatile, street-smart and tactically adaptable. He can seamlessly slot into a defensive midfield role or even at right-back, making him a priceless piece of the PSG and Brazil puzzles. In other words, what appears to be truly great about Marquinhos doesn’t show up in the data nearly as much as his physical prowess.
🧮 Positional versatility
Marquinhos is a genuinely rare breed bordering on extinction. No other elite centre-back in Europe right now can perform as a specialist holding midfielder. Not since Vincent Kompany have we seen a natural central defensive midfielder ease into the role of centre-half with such aplomb. With the naked eye, we can see that Marquinhos is an accomplished ball-playing centre-back, and much of that is owing to his education higher up the pitch, which helped him obtain a full-360 mental picture of events going on around him.
📉 Marquinhos’ player traits according to AI Abacus:
- Right-footed centre-back
- Rarely makes fouls
- Wins tackles and is rarely beaten 1v1
- Regularly blocks shots
- Regularly plays through-balls
- Highly secure in possession
So, which players have comparable skill-sets and playing styles? Again we’ll turn to our AI Abacus intel. Dayot Upamecano is a star in the making for France and Bayern but is still four years Marquinhos’ junior, and well on the way to becoming an elite defender. Borussia Dortmund’s elegant Manuel Akanji, stylistically speaking, shares many similarities with Marquinhos but doesn’t have quite the same global stature just yet.
Simply put, there are no other centre-backs in the world who share Marquinhos’ profile and are in his exact age bracket. Man City’s defensive rock Rúben Dias is still 24 and already exhibits superb natural leadership skills and is aerially aggressive and proactive, but he isn’t as technically tidy as the Brazilian. Dias’ status as an exclusively specialist centre-back means that he is dissimilar to Marquinhos in one key department (he didn’t even show up in this data set), but what they have in common is that they’re two of the best in the business.
🏆 A Champions League title still eludes him
Let’s circle back to the burning question of this piece. Perhaps Marquinhos needs to win the Champions League if he is to be regarded in the top tier of accomplished global centre-halves. Defeat in 2020 would have cut him deep, and that pain will only go away when he goes one better and lifts the trophy. This would be a handy supplement to the national honours he has already scooped with Brazil.
In summary, Marquinhos’ greatest strength is that there isn’t really another elite centre-back in Europe quite like him. He’s not as dominant and aggressive in the air as his teammate Sergio Ramos used to be in his heyday at Real Madrid, and he’s not as unflappable or adept at spraying the ball over long diagonal distances as Virgil van Dijk.
Marcos Aoás Corrêa, or Marquinhos for short, will be relishing an imminent Champions League R16 meeting with Real Madrid and, of course, the World Cup. Big occasions draw the best out of the man. 2022 could just be the year that he starts to inscribe his name into football’s hallowed history books.
How many centre-backs on planet earth are better than Marquinhos? You can most certainly count them with a couple of fingers on one hand.