Korea’s top division has restarted. Previously named ‘K League Classic’, it now has the simpler moniker ‘K League 1’. And the leading man of the first round of games was the 23-year-old giant from Brazil, Marcos Vinicius Amaral Alves, aka Marcão.
A forward for Gyeongnam FC, Marcão started the game against Sangju Sangmu FC, and scored three. It was the first hat-trick in an opening game since K League adopted a round-robin tournament format. Then Marcão got sent off. It was an intense game in many ways—and it was his first in the top flight.
A footballer who started dunking at fifteen
Marcão is 196 centimeters tall. His father was a basketball team coach. Like many boys in Brazil though, Marcão started playing football at a very young age. He was talented enough at basketball to start dunking at the age of 15, and he played for an amateur side for a while. But when his parents divorced and he came to live with his mother, he went back to football to help out his family—football was a better way to make money. Marcão was a mediocre striker in Ituano FC, a fourth division Brazilian team. Then he transferred to South Korea’s Gyeongnam FC in 2017.
Marcão came to Korea with more going against him than for him. His style was remarkably powerful for a football player with a large build, but he was also known for being timid and physically inflexible for a Brazilian player. Ituano’s president is Juninho Paulista, a midfielder who was a member of the Brazilian team that won the 2002 World Cup. Paulista told Gyeongnam to “take good care of Marcão since he tends to be sensitive and timid.”
Marcão scored the highest number of goals in the second division and enjoyed unexpected success. He stood out among the numerous other Brazilian strikers in the league. He was well rounded, with the ability to easily hustle Korean players, to shoot long range, and to dribble and break down defenses. He won the Top Scorer Award with 22 goals and the MVP Award when the season closed. With Marcão, Gyeongnam FC won the championship. Other Korean sides, as well as Chinese and Japanese clubs, clammered to sign him, but Gyeongnam succeeded in keeping Marcão and moved up to K League 1.
Marcão’s success was largely down to Gyeongnam FC’s manager Kim Jong-boo, who was the most talented striker in Korea in his day. He coached Marcão personally at every training session, and Marcão made improvements in all areas, from shooting techniques to tactical movements. Generally Brazilian football players are vastly more technically proficient than Koreans, and they dislike taking detailed orders from Korean managers. In that aspect, Marcão’s relationship with Kim Jong-boo was special.
Dreams of Europe
Marcão is beloved. Elementary school students rush to take pictures with him at the Changwon Football Center, Gyeongnam FC’s home grounds. He is more popular than his Korean teammates—most of all for his boyish, innocent personality. When he said he liked the Korean girl group Twice, fans requested that he celebrate his next goal with the group’s dance moves, and he duly complied with moves from the song TT after his first goal against Sangju. To be precise, his hand moves were from Twice’s song, while his feet danced to samba rhythm. His other goal celebrations included imitating a jump shot with the ball.
He still loves basketball though. As well as Michael Jordan and LeBron James, he is now a fan of Stephen Curry. He has several Golden State Warriors caps at home and sometimes has his friends wear them. Last year, when Curry came to Korea, Marcão purchased a ton of Under Armour products to win a ticket to his event. But it didn’t work out. When a reporter asked Marcão if he thought becoming a famous football player would give him the chance of befriending Curry, Marcão answered with a dreamy look: “I only want to watch the Warrior’s game in the Oracle Arena. If I’m lucky, maybe I can get a selfie with him.”
Marcão once compared himself to Kevin Durant: “Durant is tall and an excellent inside and outside shooter. I’m a similar player in football, since I’m also tall, and I’m great with my head and my feet.”
His innocence concerning the game shows in him wanting to go to Europe more than China. Most South American footballers who come to Korea do so in hopes of later transferring to China for a huge salary. Jonathan Aparecido da Silva (previously at Suwon Samsung Bluewings), who scored the most goals in last year’s K League Classic, moved to China’s Tianjin TEDA earlier this year. Marcão, in contrast, plans on pursuing renown over money. He hopes to improve under Kim Jong-boo and head to Europe eventually. For now though, his goal is to finish the season as top scorer in K League 1.