Marauding Brazilian left back Marcelo won Europe's Champions League five times with Real Madrid. Now, at the age of 35, he has the chance to join a select group who have claimed the leading continental title on both sides of the Atlantic. Back where it all started for him, Marcelo will be part of the Fluminense team who take on Argentina's Boca Juniors in this Saturday's final of the Copa Libertadores, South America's version of the Champions League.
Part of the appeal of the big game is the opportunity to watch Marcelo with the freedom to play as he pleases. Never the greatest defender in the world, at Fluminense Marcelo is encouraged to play from left-back rather than at left-back. At times he may even be seen popping up on the right wing.
This is all included in the freewheeling philosophy of coach Fernando Diniz. Currently doubling up as coach of Brazil, Diniz is predictably running into problems with the national team with next to no time on the training ground. But at Fluminense, he has had the space to mould the team to his liking. They can be gloriously unorthodox, with almost the entire team sometimes clustered around the ball in one side of the field, working intricate passing movements leading up to a sudden surprise switch.
Key to the game plan is a player for whom this match is even more important than Marcelo -- 34-year-old called Paulo Henrique Ganso. Back in 2009-10, Ganso came through in the same Santos team as the teenage Neymar. Plenty of pundits thought that Ganso would prove to be the better player. Knee injuries did not help, but Ganso's career came nowhere near fulfilling these hopes. He was let go by Brazil after a few caps, his time in Europe (with Sevilla and Amiens) was a disaster and for a while he appeared to be an expensive mistake by Fluminense -- until Diniz took over.
There is little dynamism in Ganso's play. He cuts a statuesque figure. But his passing can be like radar, and he often lurks behind the line of the ball to put the team's moves into motion. He was part of the Santos side that won the Libertadores 12 years ago, but this looks like the most important game of a frustrating career.
Having Marcelo and Ganso in the same side puts a strain on the defence, especially when Diniz plays two out and out strikers. Balancing out the team is midfielder Andre, who nearly joined Liverpool in the last transfer window and may well make the move in the next. He has to chase, run and cover, often dropping back into the defensive line when Fluminense are chasing the game.
The cutting edge comes from a pair of foreigners. Colombian Jhon Arias is nominally a winger, but he can appear all over the pitch, breaking the lines of the opposing defence and serving as a key source for Argentine striker German Cano. Now 35, Cano has played all over Latin America, always scoring goals but consistently flying under the radar. A penalty area operator of chilling efficiency, Cano has now been given the platform to become a star -- he has as many goals in this campaign as the entire Boca Juniors team combined.
This is one of the reasons to see Fluminense as clear favourites. Another is that they are playing at home. The final of the Libertadores is now staged on a neutral ground -- which this year, by coincidence, happens to be the Maracana stadium, home of Fluminense. It was at this venue that earlier in the campaign they inflicted the heaviest Libertadores defeat in the history of River Plate, Boca's great local rivals.
Boca, meanwhile, have hardly covered themselves in glory on their route to the final. After struggling through perhaps the weakest group in the first phase, they have not managed to win a single game in the knock out rounds. All six matches ended in draws, all three ties went to a penalty shoot-out where former Argentina and Manchester United keeper Sergio Romero excelled, saving six of the 11 shots he faced.
A possible problem on Saturday is that extra time is played in the final if scores are level after 90 minutes. If they are to win on penalties, then Boca will have to hold out for the full two hours plus stoppage time. And they will have to do so without captain and defensive organiser Marcos Rojo, who is suspended after being sent off in the second leg of the semifinal.
The odds, then, are stacked Fluminense's way. But that does not make the game a foregone conclusion. There are some big-occasion players in the Boca lineup -- such as Edinson Cavani, yet another with a Manchester United connection. His link up with the little red-headed teenager Valentin Barco could be interesting. The left-footed Barco is full of intrepid, illusive running and packs a surprise shot.
But it is in midfield that Boca will hope to stamp their authority on proceedings. Fluminense could leave themselves light, especially if Diniz cannot resist the temptation to field the live wire forward John Kennedy alongside Cano. With the all-round maturity of midfielder Paul Fernandez, the strength and left-footed promise of Ezequiel Fernandez and the talent of Cristian Medina, Boca will hope to keep the ball, take the heat out of the game and make Fluminense fret.
Of the traditional Brazilian teams, Fluminense are one of the few never to have won the Libertadores. The importance of the match could create pressures that Boca will know how to exploit.
Either way, history will be made. A Boca triumph will bring them level with compatriots Independiente as the club with most Libertadores titles. Fluminense's first win would mean that Brazil have claimed the title five times in a row -- a run of supremacy that no country has achieved in the 64-year history of South America's premier club competition.