Football: Coaching the best out of the next Pele

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The Independent Online
TIMES change, attitudes too, but long-held misconceptions about Brazilian football linger; never mind that Pele didn't see Rio de Janeiro until his 16th year, just trawl the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema and you are sure to come across fresh jewels for the crown.

Cliche assumes only gifts from the womb, generation upon generation of great natural footballers; Vava, Didi, Garrincha, Pele, Gerson, Tostao, Jairzinho, Rivelinho, Carlos Alberto, Zico, Socrates, Falcao, Junior, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo.

The modern truth is in a structured system of club academies similar to that being put in place by the Football Association's technical director, Howard Wilkinson, at the expense of influence held historically by the English Schools' Football Association.

If pointless, the ESFA's opposition to Wilkinson's blueprint was evident in the dismay some of its officials put forward at a reception following Saturday's 0-0 draw against Brazil, the last appearance at Wembley by England schoolboys. "Why? Go and ask those people over there," the ESFA chairman, Alan Heads, growled across at a group of FA representatives.

Under a system that will require the clubs to meet stringent standards of coaching, welfare and general education before their academies are approved, boys will play no more than 30 competitive games a season.

Wilkinson's biggest problem is with the lack of enthusiasm for his efforts shown by some Premier League clubs but at least there is now a proper process of development in English football.

What it cannot do of course is to create the natural fluency of Brazilian football. John Cartwright, who turned out for West Ham and brought forward a clutch of future international players for Crystal Palace in the 70s, is now the Professional Footballers' Association's technical director. "At this level we are not, and never have been, that far behind anyone in technical ability," he said on Saturday, "but things have tended to go wrong further forward."

In Brazil, the romance of urchin advancement, from the rutted streets of Pele's deprived youth in Bauru to international stardom, has long since given way to planned evolution. Many of today's players, Juninho for example, are from middle-class backgrounds and are the elite products of coaching schools.

Significantly, despite a fourth World Cup success in 1994, the modernising of Brazil's football is not without its critics. "Success is fine," says a veteran observer, Jose Werneck, "but sometimes I feel that the essence of our game has been overtaken by European ideas. At these clinics they are teaching players to kick with both feet but Gerson only needed his left and a marvellous instinct to be a great player."

Werneck would not have been able to find much fault with the effect of coaching on Saraiva, a 14-year old from southern Brazil who wore the legend of Pele's No 10 on his back at Wembley.

Saraiva may be the youngest player ever to wear colours that always quicken the pulse, but in bright, wide-set eyes and strong features there is a maturity beyond his time.

To be spoken of as the next Pele is a huge burden. It proved too much for the immensely talented Edu who was included at 16 in Brazil's 1966 World Cup squad.

Another who wore 10 on his back, but in England's colours, cast a sharp eye over Saraiva. Johnny Haynes's outstanding career in the game opened up to public gaze in 1950 when he turned out against Scotland in the first schoolboy international played at Wembley.

Saturday's guest of honour, now in his early sixties, Haynes warmed to Saraiva's gifts and confidence. "You can never be sure what the future holds for a player of this age, whether he will grow into the game as an adult, but this kid looks to have a lot going for him," Haynes said.

Not least pride in performance and gratitude for the good things that have happened to him since he begged $5 (pounds 3) from his grandfather (his parents were penniless) to take part in an indoor tournament.

Spotted by the local club, Internacional, he will soon leave home to join them as a sponsored trainee. Playing at Wembley fascinated Saraiva not least because he knows that Pele never played there. "It was a big thrill," he said, "now I hope to make something of myself in football. To be like Ronaldo."

Times change but some things never change. If good organisation has been central to Brazil's success, Saraiva reminded us on Saturday that thrilling virtuosity is the lifeblood of their football.

England: Evans; Clark, Clarke, Tapp, O'Brien (capt), Dodd, Parnaby, Defoe, Bewers, Hanshaw, Boothroyd. Substitutes: Szmid, Logan, Davis, Nardiello, Crookes.

Brazil: Rubinho; Caio, Fernando, Matheus (capt), Wellington, Eduardo, Glauber, Walker, Carlos Augusto, Saraiva, Wendel. Substitutes: Diego, Robson, Jaiton, Leanderson, Maua, Bruno.