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Marquinhos: PSG's Brazilian utility man deserves more

Sat in his post-match press conference looking out at the expectant journalists and fielding questions about his apparent new recruit Leandro Paredes, Thomas Tuchel replied matter-of-factly; “I’ve been waiting for a few days, but he’s not here. I looked for him in the showers, in the cloakroom, in the physio room, with the goalkeepers, but he is not there.”

Laughs were drawn from those sat in front of him, but the Paris Saint-Germain coach’s intent was deadly serious.

It was just three days before the end of the transfer window and Antero Henrique, the club’s sporting director, had only signed one central midfielder – a position in which they were, and still are, desperately short of options.

While Paredes did emerge from wherever he was hiding in time to make his debut in his side’s Coupe de France game against Villefranche last Wednesday, Tuchel remains unsatisfied. And, according to reports from Brazil, he is far from the only one in the PSG camp to feel that way.

Les Parisiens’ Brazilian contingent have made their desire for reinforcements clear and one amongst them would - you imagine - have been right behind Tuchel, frantically assisting the manager in his search for Paredes.

The lack of midfield options has an effect on the collective, but one individual has borne the brunt of the problem more than others: Selecao centre-back Marquinhos.

In the absence of specialists, he has been forced to spend a sizeable portion of the season playing out of position, filling in blank spaces for a club that has spent over €1 billion on recruitment since 2011.

Since the turn of the year, the defender has been played in a central midfield role on three occasions, lining up alongside Julian Draxler in the middle of a 3-5-2 formation or with Daniel Alves as a central pairing in a 4-4-2.

And even with the addition of Paredes, the Brazilian may not be relieved of his duties as a stand-in.

Marco Verratti only returned from injury in Saturday’s league game against Bordeaux and, lacking match sharpness, could start on the bench as PSG take on Manchester United in Tuesday’s tantalising Champions League tie.

Another option, Adrien Rabiot, has already been ruled out, banished to the club’s internal wilderness by Antero Henrique for refusing to sign a new long-term contract.

Being a consummate professional, Marquinhos will not openly complain about being deployed away from his preferred role in the centre of defence, instead trotting out platitudes about ‘doing whatever the manager asks’. But deep down the resentment must be growing.

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It is not that he is incapable of performing the role; his delightful outside-of-the-boot pass against Villefranche showed that he has the range of distribution required, and his tackling and positional sense are beyond doubt.

It is instead what he is foregoing as a result of the switch, what economists would refer to as the opportunity cost. Asked about his then-club-mate in 2015, Zlatan Ibrahimović was categorical in his response. “[Marquinhos],” the Swede said, “will be the number one defender in the world in a few years.”

The Sao Paulo native has all the ability necessary to fulfil Zlatan’s prediction, as well as the leadership qualities to be captain of the Brazil national team and of any of Europe’s handful of international super clubs for the next decade.

Unbelievably, given how long he already seems to have been performing at the top level, he is still only 24.

Marquinhos

But, to state the obvious, if he wants to be the best defender in the world, he first needs to be a defender. And to be guaranteed the privilege of playing in his preferred position, he would be best served by a move away from the institutional incompetence of Paris Saint-Germain.

Marquinhos missed out on a place in Brazil’s first-XI for last summer’s World Cup despite having played in almost all of the qualifiers, with his club colleague Thiago Silva and Inter Milan’s Miranda getting the nod instead.

And Brazil manager Tite is notoriously reluctant to use players in positions that they do not regularly perform in at club level. Marquinhos’ continued presence in midfield must, then, be giving him a selection headache. Were the 24-year-old to miss out on a starting berth at this year’s Copa America as a result, it would be disastrous on a personal level.

There are realistic alternatives to PSG though – ones, miraculously, with central midfielders. The Spanish newspaper El Pais reported in January that Marquinhos is top of Real Madrid’s list of defensive transfer targets as they look to find a long-term partner for Raphael Varane.

Of La Liga’s current top ten, only Eibar and Alaves have conceded more than Real, so a replacement for the ageing and excessively influential Sergio Ramos is a clear priority as the club looks to rejuvenate its squad.

Then there is Marquinhos’ longest-running suitor, that just so happens to be the club he will take on in PSG’s upcoming European tie.

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United expressed interest in the Brazilian as far back as his time at Roma and, as Jose Mourinho did not tire of reminding us until he was relieved of his duties, would benefit from the presence of a world class centre-half.

Under new management, the Red Devils appear to have set themselves on an upward trajectory once more and could offer Marquinhos the positional stability that he requires. They are also one of the few clubs that could put together a financial package of sufficient weight to prize him away from PSG.

Whichever position he finds himself in when he takes to the Old Trafford turf on Tuesday night, Marquinhos will give all he has to help his current club progress – it is difficult to imagine him in a sulk because he isn’t getting things his own way.

But in the back of his mind there may well be a thought that this is an audition; the perfect stage on which to display the individual talents that, if inserted into a suitable collective context, could carry him right to the top of the world game.

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