The Toronto Star
newspaper had this amusing item:
Toronto FC manager Mo Johnston wants a Brazilian for his team. There is at least one, a monumentally gifted competitor, currently in circulation. This young tiger has fully formed skills, a predator's nose for goal and has been blooded at the highest international levels. Best of all, this one's likely available for a song.
The major hurdle standing in TFC's way is mental. This he is a she – the outrageously talented Brazilian forward Marta
The current FIFA player of the year proved in the recent World Cup that she is a peerless presence in the women's game. Her second goal in the semifinal against the U.S. – the one where she back-heels past her marker, spins in the opposite direction, sprints toward goal, shimmies away from another defender, then turns and lashes the ball to the near post – deserves recognition as one of the greatest ever. Right up there beside Pele in 1958, Diego Maradona in '86 and Dennis Bergkamp in '98. Forget a woman among girls – for three weeks, Marta was Gulliver weaving around the Lilliputians.
The 21-year-old plays her professional football for Swedish side Umeĺ IK. A small city only a few hundred kilometres from the Arctic Circle, Umeĺ is an unlikely place to hide the world's best women's player. For four years, Marta has toiled there in relative anonymity. Aided by Marta's goal-a-game strike rate, Umeĺ has lost three of its last 86 league games.
According to her, she is happy to remain there. "I am not an ambitious person," she has said. She's learned the language and how to cope with the cold. She's turned down a $350,000 (U.S.) salary in Germany.
But after that World Cup, someone is going to grab Marta. The likely buyer will come from the soon-to-be resurrected U.S. women's league. It's due to restart in 2009.
That gives TFC a one-year window.
If the rumours are to be believed, the L.A. Galaxy are already interested.
Given the Galaxy's publicity stunt with David Beckham, the rumour makes sense. Knowing how low playing beside a woman would bring the reputation of L.A.'s media-battered superstar, it's impossible.
Toronto, on the other hand, is a much softer landing point. Tick off the points in favour: young, struggling team in need of skill up front; an open-minded, sports-mad town; a sizable Portuguese-speaking community; the chance for the city to preen in the international spotlight.
Points against outnumber the positives by a wide margin: the pressure on Marta, on her new teammates or the fact that no gender crossover in team sport has ever worked. Don't even mention which level of government would have to fund the new locker room.
But most of all, we fear the world's ridicule. And it would be hastily forthcoming. From this contrarian's vantage point, that's half the reason to do it and have most of the fun.
Buying Marta would be a publicity ploy. But it needn't be a stunt. It's a genuinely interesting sports proposition. How would the best women's player ever, one who's still developing, fare in a men's league? The World Cup proved Marta has transcended the women's game. Major League Soccer is the next suitable step up.
MLS will be faster and more physical, especially for a slightly built woman who stands only 5-foot-4. But being physical is not destiny in soccer.
Maradona is 5-foot-5. Slippery Real Madrid and Brazil striker Robinho weighs about 130 pounds. Small stature or a lack of brute strength are more easily overcome in this team sport than in any other.
Would she succeed? The obstacles, most of them found off the field, are beyond formidable.
Will this ever happen? Probably not.
Money's one thing, but Marta surely doesn't need the grief.
Is it worth a try? Let's make her an offer. If she's woman enough for the challenge, can't we all be man enough to let her take it on?