Marta: Ambassador for women's game
Brazilian committed to advancing cause of women's soccer
It was a comparison that was always bound to be made, but after four years of constant usage, it doesn't appear to be going out of style.
Marta's command performance at the 2007 Pan Am games in Rio de Janeiro — she scored a tournament-high 12 goals as Brazil won all seven of its matches en route to capturing the gold medal — earned her the nickname "the female Pele."
Marta was further feted when she became the first woman to be inducted into the world-famous Maracana Stadium walk of fame, with concrete imprints of her lightning-quick feet joining those of male Brazilian legends such as Ronaldo, Romario, Garrincha and, of course, Pele.
Now, the five-time reigning FIFA world player of the year can't go an interview, a media scrum or a news conference without being likened to Pele.
And while she's flattered by the comparison, the 25-year-old striker maintains she's more interested in seeing which players will establish themselves as the game's new superstars during this summer's FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany.
"Look, it's super interesting to hear these comparisons to Pele, who was and is an idol for everyone … I am really happy about all of it [but] I hope that other Peles and other athletes will emerge," Marta told CBC Sports in a one-on-one interview.
Just hollow words to disguise her naked ambition? Hardly.
Marta is a unique athlete, one who is genuinely concerned by helping to advance the cause of women' s soccer. She's unabashedly vocal in expressing her views for the need for improved investment in the women's game, especially in her native Brazil
"Lots is invested in men's soccer but little is invested in women's soccer, despite it being the same sport - just a different gender," said Marta. "If they had a permanent [professional] league, not just in the U.S., but also in Brazil and in various European countries, athletes could have places to play. The clubs, too, could set up teams and provide more structure for the athletes."
Marta speaks from personal experience, having had to leave her homeland seven years ago for Sweden in order to advance her professional career. She arrived in the U.S. in 2009 with the formation of the Women's Professional Soccer League as a member of the Los Angeles Sol.
She finished as the league's top scorer that season and helped the Sol reach the WPS Championship Final. But she was forced to find a new club when the Sol ceased operations. She landed with FC Gold Pride, but again saw her career enter a state of limbo when the franchise folded at the end of the 2010 season.
That a player of her calibre twice had to scramble to find a new team was a bitter and humbling experience.
"I was certain that I was going to play, I was just not sure where," admitted Marta, who currently stars for Western New York Flash, her third WPS team in three years. "I did have other offers, but it's a pretty negative thing, and you hope it doesn't have to happen again."
Overcoming obstacles is nothing new to the Brazilian, though. Even establishing herself in soccer-mad Brazil proved a daunting challenge during her childhood — and you don't need three guesses to figure out why.
"I started playing when I was eight … in a small city in the country side called Alagoas and it was difficult to find continuity because there were no female teams and I had to play with all the boys and I wasn't always well accepted," Marta recalled.
"Every time I played with them I was able to find a way to be better so that was one of the reasons why it was difficult for them to accept me on their team."
But she did gain acceptance, enough to carve out a professional career and establish herself as the greatest woman to ever play the game. The lessons Marta learned on the dirt fields of Alagoas haven't been forgotten, which is probably why she possesses a strong social conscience, using her fame to touch the lives of those less fortunate.
"My biggest goal is to be involved in social projects ... and spend part of my life in order to give those people a bit more hope. The truth is that I'm not just looking for fame, but just to always help in some way," stated the Brazilian.
"The most gratifying thing is to be able to help without having to give them material things, but simply with your life story and connecting to them by talking with them and showing them a better way and giving them hope of a better world for all us."
Despite all the awards and accolades, one honour has escaped Marta thus far: a winner' s medal at the Women's World Cup.
The Brazilian scored a tournament-leading seven goals and was named the competition's MVP four years ago in China. But a 2-0 loss to Germany in the final denied her the chance to add the title of world champion to her impressive resume.
Her scoring touch escaped her in final, with the Germans effectively limiting her chances. The memory of that loss linger serves as a reminder of what she has to do differently this summer in Germany.
"We have that potential [to win] and I think I need to improve my final touch when I am about to score because we have had our chances to score in [China] and we weren't very good at finishing it off. So, I think we need to play with a bit more calmness," Marta admitted.
She's clearly focused on this upcoming World Cup, and according to the Brazilian, the future is bright.
"Now more than ever, it's Brazil's moment to win this competition and grab the title — that's what I'm dreaming of," said Marta.