How even the clueless can find the Samba key

The Brazilian way
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The Independent Online

When the film There's Only One Jimmy Grimble goes on general release at the end of August, cinema audiences will marvel at the tricks and flicks of a 17-year-old footballer in the title role who was, before filming began, absolutely clueless. Simon Clifford hopes to use the Brazilian formula he has imported into this country to work a similar transformation on the British game.

When the film There's Only One Jimmy Grimble goes on general release at the end of August, cinema audiences will marvel at the tricks and flicks of a 17-year-old footballer in the title role who was, before filming began, absolutely clueless. Simon Clifford hopes to use the Brazilian formula he has imported into this country to work a similar transformation on the British game.

Clifford, the founder of the UK Confederation of Futebol de Sãlao, still winces at his first meeting with Lewis McKenzie, after he was given the job of directing the football scenes in the movie. "I felt physically sick, he was that bad. The laughable thing now is that he will probably have Premier League clubs interested in him."

The techniques that turned McKenzie from total duffer to film-star footballer are those worked out in the favellas of Brazil's over-crowded cities. Futebol de Sãlao - literally football of the hall - was a response to the shortage of space; played on a basketball-sized court with a smaller, heavier ball, it produces levels of skill that have helped to make senior Brazilian football what it is.

All the great Brazilian players, from Pele through to Ronaldo, have cut their teeth on the cut-down form of the game, but it was Juninho, during his first spell at Middlesbrough, who was Clifford's introduction to a secret world of expertise. Clifford, now 29, was teaching at a primary school in Leeds, but had remained a season ticket holder with his home-town club. By chance, he became friendly with Juninho after asking him to coach at his school.

"Juninho said to me that the smallest, street-corner club in Brazil was more professional in its approach to training than the biggest club in Europe," he says. "When I got there, I saw exactly what he meant." Clifford borrowed £5,000 against the security of his teaching pension and saw in the Futebol de Sãlao culture of Brazil the approach to teaching skills that he wanted to bring to Britain. "You see so many bad players in club sides and even national sides - players who can't do the basics."

The first session Clifford organised at his own school attracted four children. There are now around 10,000 exposed to his ideas at 100 centres throughout the country. Futebol de Sãlao has become a franchising operation, with the outposts - which can be run by clubs, councils or individuals - paying Clifford 10 per cent of their income. If that sounds a little like the workings of a religious cult, then there is a certain bright-eyed evangelical fervour about it all.

Scores of coaches have been at a college in Leeds, earning their accreditation. Last week, the first national tournament, the Lego Cup - the sponsors have put in £1m over three years - saw Norwich emerge as winners, with luminaries like Peter Beardsley in attendance.

In the FdS philosophy, however, competition is a secondary consideration, as are tactics. If Tony Blair rattles on about "education, education, education", Clifford's mantra is "practice, practice, practice".

Thus, a typical scene at one of his Brazilian soccer schools consists of pairs of players, knocking the ball around in a series of choreographed manoeuvres, using all parts of the foot and body, often to a samba soundtrack, over and over. "It's a difference of culture," Clifford says. "Brazilian players do this all the time."

The vice-president of the Brazilian Coaching Association, Professor Emilio Miranda, was in Leeds to underline that message, but Clifford says he is not in the business of producing clones - or Boys from Brazil. The system is adapted for British conditions and young players do one-third of their training with a conventional ball. That makes the transition to mainstream football an easy one, Clifford insists, and the supporting evidence is already there in the numbers of his graduates who are being signed on by professional clubs.

Those boys will become the best advert for his scheme. "They often come back from clubs disappointed with what they are doing there, but it will be very exciting in a few years time. They will influence other players at those clubs and introduce a whole new culture."

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