The Samba skills of Brazil has its own place in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) history. From the likes of Roberto Carlos to Elano Blumer, the Brazilian players have surely held the league spellbound by their unique and charming magic. 

Marcelo Leite Pereira a.k.a Marcelinho is among such Brazilian names to add richness in the league. While his technical skills are a treat to the eyes, his goalscoring abilities uplifted six different Hero ISL clubs across six years. However, in all those six years, one club which was rumored to have him was Kerala Blasters FC, and despite the expectations of the Yellow Army fans every year, Marcelinho never wore the adorned yellow jersey of Kerala Blasters FC, which is still an answered puzzle in the Hero ISL.

Marcelinho had an immediate impact in the league and became the top goalscorer in his debut Hero ISL 2016 season besides having the most goal contributions (15), subsequently winning the Golden Boot with then Delhi Dynamos FC. He replicated his goal contributions in the following season and kept registering double digits, being an influential figure in FC Pune City’s semi-final run.

Irrespective of the club he played for, the Brazilian’s form remained pivotal and played a huge role in his respective club’s success. The forward was a key figure for Hyderabad FC in their 2019-20 campaign, clinching seven goals and two assists before joining Odisha FC for the 2020-21 campaign. He then joined ATK Mohun Bagan on loan in the same season followed by a stint at NorthEast United FC in the successive season. Marcelinho expressed his disappointment of not joining the Blasters and explained how he was loved by the fans and his connection with Kerala.

"I watched the first Hero ISL final (in Kochi). I have always enjoyed my time in Kochi. Many of my followers are from Kerala, they always message me. We have something special and there’s a very nice connection between me and Kerala. Unfortunately, I never played there," he said in an Instagram live interaction with Donix_clash.

"It’s the most beautiful pitch in India. Whenever I have played against Kerala Blasters FC, I have given my jersey or something else to the crowd. There is something (about Kerala) that touched me," he added.

The former Golden Boot winner has encapsulated the fans across clubs with his goals and assists, having scored 34 goals in six different clubs in the Hero ISL. But the love he received from the fans of the Kerala Blasters FC, which he never played with, is unparalleled. Even when he played against the Tuskers, he received genuine appreciation from the opposition crowd. Marcelinho highly appreciated this gesture and was unaware about such a connection. 

"It’s something special (the connection with Kerala Blasters FC fans) because even when I played as an opposing player, fans in Kerala were very supportive. It is the most beautiful thing in football, that doesn't happen so often. They write to me all the time on Instagram but I have no idea about the reason behind the love" he said.

The three-time Hero ISL finalists had prolific strikers in the past, the likes of Iain Hume, Dimitar Berbatov, but the love of the KBFC faithful towards Marcelinho is an open secret. During his stint in the Hero ISL, the Brazilian was rumored to join the Kerala Blasters FC on multiple occasions. Marcelinho cleared the air and stated he never received any official call from the club.

"After (my time with) Delhi Dynamos FC and FC Pune City, I had some calls, but nothing official. I was waiting for some official offer, but it never arrived. When I was in Odisha FC, I received some calls, but nothing happened. I think they (Kerala Blasters FC) changed the management (in 2020) and the new management never called me," the Brazilian added.

With the Hero ISL 2022-23 approaching its business end, two teams - Mumbai City FC and Hyderabad FC - have already sealed qualification in the playoffs and are fighting for the pole position. The remaining four playoff spots are wide open with more than seven teams contesting. The 35-year old expressed that this season is more competitive as he predicted the final that could involve his favorite side.

"I am following the Hero ISL. It’s getting competitive. It’s always competitive between the same teams. Mumbai City FC, ATK Mohun Bagan are the strongest teams in the league. But in my point of view, the final will be between ATK Mohun Bagan and Hyderabad FC. How I feel for Kerala, the same I feel for ATK Mohun Bagan. I love the supporters and I am always going to support ATK Mohun Bagan as well," he commented.

After a successful six-year stint in the Hero ISL, Marcelinho hung up his boots and announced his retirement from football recently. This incomplete love story between the Brazilian and Kerala Blasters FC would remain in the history books of Hero ISL. Marcelinho thanked all his fans in Kerala and wished to watch the famous Sevens tournament in the state in the future.

"I love all the people from Kerala and appreciate their support. I cannot respond to all their messages because it’s not possible. I can feel their love and affection. I had a big dream to watch the Sevens tournament in Kerala. I have friends from Kerala like Anas (Edathodika) and Ashique (Kuruniyan) and we always talk about the passion (for football in Kerala). I have a lot of love for the people there," he concluded.