It is virtually impossible to imagine international football without Formiga, in part because, with the Brazil midfielder’s career spanning seven World Cups and seven Olympics, few have watched an international competition without her and no one has watched women’s football at the Olympics without her.
She has been ever-present in the women’s football ecosystem for so long that to even contemplate a major international tournament without the “ant” (Formiga in Portuguese, a nickname given for a style of play) scurrying relentlessly over every blade of grass is like trying to envisage living the rest of your life without shoes or perhaps, more aptly, never being able to look at a piece of artwork again.
Yet here we are, with one game, against India in Amazonas’s largest city Manaus on Thursday, between us and a somewhat inconceivable reality despite her age at 43.
The Bahia-born player has decided to step back from the international game for the second time after retiring in 2016, only to be coaxed back two years later, having made her Brazil debut aged 17.
Brazil’s most-capped player, with 233 appearances, has won two Olympic silver medals, in 2004 and 2008, was a runner-up at the 2007 World Cup, finished third at the 1999 World Cup and won three Pan American Games and six Copa América Femenino titles.
Her former Brazil coach René Simoes, who was in charge in Athens in 2004, summed up Formiga’s impact in an interview with Goal in 2016: “The last time I screamed a name of a player was in the age of Pelé and Garrincha. I was a child. Today is when I realised I was screaming Formiga with everyone in Maracanã. Formiga, Formiga.
“That’s impressive. Her game reading, constant movement. Marta is Pelé, but Formiga is the most intelligent player that I’ve seen. I’ve never seen someone so smart playing football like her.”
The US two-times World Cup winner Megan Rapinoe paid tribute on Instagram. “One of the very best to ever do it,” she said. “Had the honour of playing with Formiga and of course against her. And I truly cannot say there is anyone better on or off the field. Wow! What a career, what a player. Goat for real. Thank you for allowing us all to bear witness to your greatness.”
The only girl among five children, Miraildes Maciel Mota was born in 1978, three years before Brazil’s 40-year ban on women’s football was lifted, and began playing football aged 12, inspired by the Brazil midfielder Dunga.
In her 26-year career to date Formiga, who returned to her first club São Paulo this year, has spent time in Sweden, the US and France (where she helped Paris Saint-Germain to a first league title last season) around playing for eight Brazilian teams.
Her longevity is testament to her incredible ability on the ball and her energy in and out of possession but also a stark reminder of underinvestment in the talent pathways in Brazilian women’s football that has meant players such as Formiga, Marta and Cristiane have yet to be pushed aside.
That issue prompted Formiga to step back in 2016, to give others space, and was highlighted by the six-times world player of the year Marta in an impassioned speech into a camera after Brazil’s exit at the 2019 World Cup in France. “Women’s football depends on you to survive,” Marta said. “Think about it, value it more. We’re asking for support – you have to cry at the beginning and smile at the end.
“It’s about wanting more, it’s about training more, it’s about looking after yourself more, it’s about being ready to play 90 minutes and then 30 minutes more. This is what I ask of the girls. There’s not going to be a Formiga forever, there’s not going to be a Marta forever, there’s not going to be a Cristiane.”
Unfortunately she was right and the world of women’s football will look very different without its mainstay.