Every week, the Russian newspapers print a series of rumors that have been swirling around football. Most are completely ridiculous and haven't got a shred of truth to them. Some others are more wishful thinking on the part of the editors.
But a particularly strange rumor was published on April Fools Day.
Luciano Spalletti and Zenit St. Petersburg were apparently interested in a 24-year-old Brazilian forward, a believable rumor for sure, as Zenit still could use depth up front and have been pursuing several different South American-born forwards for the better part of the last four months.
Former Lyon forward Fred, now with Fluminense, comes to mind immediately.
But it wasn't Fred, it wasn't a player in Europe, and the player didn't have a Y-chromosome.
"Zenit is close to the acquisition of Los Angeles Sol's Brazilian forward Marta, currently with Santos women's club," read the local papers, leaving more than a few supporters of both Zenit and Russian football utterly speechless. Were the newspapers trying to pull a massive prank? It certainly seemed that way.
The article continued to say that Zenit was willing to offer €4 million for the player with an annual salary of approximately €720,000. Spalletti, who was a guest of honor at the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup, also has very good relations with Marta, although it would take a special consent from FIFA to allow a female footballer to play the men's game.
Of course, the Los Angeles Sol was disbanded on January 27, meaning Marta is currently looking for new challenges. Playing for Santos has provided no competition for her whatsoever, as she has already scored 26 times in 14 matches.
But is it innovative or insane?
Worldwide, it is estimated that over 25 million women play the game of football at some level or another. Esteemed clubs like Arsenal, Lyon, and Frankfurt have all seen great amount of success in the women's game, and the newly formed WPS (Women's Professional Soccer) has also seen sunshine.
I know a lot less about the women's game than I would like. But an optimist would tell you that with the growing number of women in football worldwide, it would seem like only a matter of time before a female footballer breaks into the ranks of a European caliber club. Right?
Let's take a brief look at Marta. Known by Brazilian fans as "Pele with skirts," she has been awarded the FIFA Player of the Year honor for four straight years while winning both the Golden Boot and Golden Ball at the 2007 World Cup. She's a player who has scored more goals than matches played with nearly every club she has played for, including the Brazilian national team.
There's absolutely no doubt that she is the best player the women's game has today and perhaps in a very long time as well.
While the optimist will be dreaming of daisies and golden fields ahead for women's football, a pessimist will just as quickly come back to say that women are not meant to play the men's game, which is why they have their own World Cup, Champions League, and such.
Marta stands at 1.63m (or around 5'4"), and would be one of the smallest players in the men's game. Who knows? Would her immense skill set, which has dominated other women for years, be able to translate to the much more physical style of play that the men's game has to offer?
Two deductions can be made.
Either the Russian presses, along with Luciano Spalletti, have lost their minds, looking for any publicity stunt to boost ratings, or the idea is really what the future might have in store.
From a sheer objective standpoint, it's hard to see how Russia would be the best place for a player of her skill set. Making a complete generalization, the Russian Premier League is known for hard-nosed defense, some of the most physical football on the planet, and some awkward pitches to deal with for a new player.
Zenit, under Spalletti, has been a side that possesses the ball for large percentages of the match and attacks with fluid, built-up play. It's also hardly some squad of semi-professionals in the Danish Viasat Divisionen. The men from St. Petersburg won the UEFA Cup in 2008 and are currently a perennial contender to be playing in Europe every season.
Everyone knows that Zenit's owner—Gazprom, Russia's largest natural gas company—is ridiculously loaded with cash and can afford nearly any player in the world, but would a €4 million experiment be worth it?
Maybe Spalletti is actually on to something and believes the future is now. Marta is as good as advertised and could make an impact in the men's game.
Maybe Zenit sporting director Igor Korneev has had a little too much vodka. After all, it was only a few days ago that Korneev declared that Zenit were still "actively searching for a new central defender and a striker."
Insanity or innovation?
If the rumors are accurate, Marta could be a very rich woman in the near future and could also make history as the first female to pursue European titles with a men's club. Assuming FIFA provides consent, of course.
Women have always been held in high regard in Russia, dating back to the war days where they would ably fight alongside men in defense of the motherland. So why could a woman not be allowed the opportunity to play with men if the opportunity presented itself?