Leeds United nostalgia: Strange case of defender Marques

Rui Marques.
Rui Marques.
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Dennis Wise came to Leeds United with an order from Ken Bates to “clean out the Augean Stables.”

As he worked through the list of players at Elland Road, he stumbled across the name of Rui Marques and wondered what the story was.

All Wise knew about the African defender was that his career with Leeds had been a non-event and the club expected him to leave in the next transfer window. At that stage, in October 2006, Marques would not have been missed.

“It was mad,” Wise said. “I knew nothing about him and he just seemed to get on with things. But he’d been brought here from abroad and not treated nicely. He was mentally gone – fed up.

“All I understood was that he was leaving. That’s all anybody said. So we had a chat and I told him that if he wanted to go, he could go. But if he wanted a chance he could have one.”

Marques provoked in Wise an unstereotypical flush of compassion. The Angolan international was a Kevin Blackwell signing, brought in from Maritimo in the close-season of 2005 and falling quickly into the mould of obscure recruits who have served Leeds without distinction. Sebastian Sorsa, Felipe Da Costa and Joel Griffiths would all come later.

He made one League Cup appearance in his first season and was loaned to Hull City for a short time. Marques became so isolated in the weeks leading up to Wise’s appointment as manager that he was not even mentioned as a possible alternative for a team who were toiling in the Championship. He felt invisible and looked it too.

Marques was signed as a right-back but Wise saw in him the pace and the aerial power to play in the centre of his defence. His first call to Marques came on New Year’s Day in 2007 when Marques unexpectedly started a key game against Coventry City, another of the Championship’s struggling clubs. He walked away as man of the match.

It was a watershed moment which moved Marques from the exclusion zone at Elland Road to the frontline of the United squads who fought first against relegation from the Championship and then against a 15-point deduction in League One.

He became so integral that Wise held his head in his hands when it became clear that he would lose Marques to the African Cup of Nations in the early weeks of 2008. Leeds also found themselves scrambling to improve a contract which, for obvious reasons, had dwindled unnoticed.

For months on end, United were happy to see his deal run down.

Marques’ club appearances numbered exactly 100, a landmark which he never expected to reach before Wise’s arrival.

“Inside of me I had the feeling that I could be part of the team,” Marques said, “but unfortunately (Blackwell) didn’t think the same way.

“Every time I was sent to the reserves I was really disappointed. At first I thought it was a question of learning the game but it’s not really about that. It’s the fact that people don’t want you in the first team. For me it was just a question of having the opportunity in the first place. Then maybe you can show you’re a good player who can help the team.”

Time caught up with Marques eventually and he was released after playing a fleeting role in the promotion season of 2009-10.

He has been unattached ever since, an inexplicable fate for a consummate professional who was comfortable in England’s lower leagues. Three years on and at the age of 35, it seems that his career is over.

Paul Heckingbottom.

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