Teacher finds Brazil's soccer secret in the slums

Jon Culley examines a claim that Latin skills grow from playing with a non-bouncing ball

THE future of British football may lie with a small group of primary school boys hoofing an undersized, overweight football around a sports centre playground.

Every four years, when the World Cup finals come around, the same question taxes the minds of football followers everywhere, but especially in England, the game's spiritual home: just why, when so much of the sport's enormous wealth is shared among a few rich Europeans, does a relatively poor nation from South America so often produce the best team?

More than 100 years after Charles Miller, an English railway worker, organised a league in Sao Paolo and unwittingly launched Brazil on their path to global dominance, another unlikely pioneer believes he may have discovered their secret.

Simon Clifford, a primary school teacher from Leeds, spent six weeks in Brazil last summer - financed by an pounds 8,000 bank loan - and confirmed a long-held suspicion: compared with football as we know it, they really do play a different game.

Futebol de salao is a type of football, but takes place on a pitch no larger than a basketball court, and uses a small, heavy ball that does not bounce. The great luminaries of Brazilian teams down the years, from Pele via Zico to the recent Premiership star, Juninho, insist that it is this game that equipped them to become masters of the real thing.

"It is because the ball is heavy and cannot just be booted from one end of the pitch to the other that the emphasis shifts to player movement and close control," Mr Clifford said. "Children are brought up playing futebol de salao and everyone I spoke with, including Pele, Rivelino, Careca and Zico, believes it is how Brazilian players acquire their mastery of the ball."

His expedition was the subject of a television programme shown in the BBC North region last month and there are plans for a network slot in June, just before the World Cup finals begin. Mr Clifford, meanwhile, has established the English Confederation of Futebol de Salao and set up four specialist coaching schools with plans for 20 more. A longtime admirer of Brazilian skills, Middlesbrough fan Mr Clifford began his quest after a chance meeting with Juninho's father.

"Juninho's family came with him to Teesside to help him settle and, by chance, his father's seat at the stadium was in the row behind mine. We chatted, I told him of my passion for Brazilian football and he invited me to their home.

"Juninho and I became friends. He told me how players develop their skills in Brazil and I suggested we write a book together, for which a visit to Brazil seemed essential."

A large part of the visit was spent in Sao Paolo, Juninho's home city, where Mr Clifford learned of the origins of futebol de salao.

"In the early part of the century there was a wave of enthusiasm for futebol de campo, the full-scale game," he said. "But in urban areas there was very little space in which to play. Instead the game was played on handball courts, using the heavy handball balls. This became futebol de salao - "football of the hall".

Mr Clifford's ambition is to see every child in England own a futebol de salao ball. He sees it as a potential revolution, although it is one he may have to pursue without the backing of the football authorities. Although Howard Wilkinson, who as the Football Association's technical director is responsible for the development of the game, is reported to have endorsed futebol de salao, he views its potential benefits with less enthusiasm than Mr Clifford.

"It is a super game that kids will enjoy playing and anything that encourages them to play has to be welcomed," he said. "We have looked at Brazilian methods before, just as the Germans, the Dutch, the Spanish and the Italians have looked at them.

"You have to be aware that many Brazilians play football in what we would consider to be very primitive, even dangerous situations, with poor equipment.

"A place like Sao Paolo is an urban sprawl the likes of which we never see here. There are millions of people, many living in virtual shanty towns. They play football where they can and how they can. But there are many games, dozens of games, that all undoubtedly play their part.

"Playing with a ball that does not bounce is no different from the kind of football people of my generation used to play in the street with a ball that had burst.

"At the end of the day, you have to play on a full-size pitch with a ball that bounces."

Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
News
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
Sport
Wayne Rooney talks to the media during a press conference
sport
Arts and Entertainment
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager (infrastructure, upgrades, rollouts)

£38000 - £45000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

MI Analyst and SQL Developer (SQL, SSAS, SSRS)

£28000 - £32500 Per Annum + 28 days holiday, pension, discounts and more: Clea...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Reception Teachers needed for September 2014

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Re...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?