This is a question often posed by football fans as it seems to be a regular trend that the most impressive footballers in the world are from Southern America. You can strike up a debate with anyone about who the greatest ever football player is and you can almost guarantee the following three names will crop up: Pele, Maradona and Messi, all South American. The talent of these nation’s players is not only noticed by fans either, with 7 of the last 10 FIFA world player of the year title’s (since 2002) being won by either a Brazilian or Argentine player.
Brazil team warm up
The Brazilian team’s flamboyance has been something advertisers have been keen to utilise for several years, impressing us with displays of incredible skill and the finest touch, but what is it that makes these players so much better with a ball at their feet than our European representatives?
The most likely contributing factor is the small scale versions of football a lot of South American children are brought up playing, before they start playing full-size soccer, as we know it. There are 2 main variants which are both starting to make their way into the UK now; these are futsal and beach soccer Both games are 5-a-side and emphasise good ball control, agility and a touch of finesse. Futsal is played indoors with a smaller ball and goal and was developed in Uruguay in the 1930s’ while Beach Soccer, developed in Brazil in the 1990’s can be played indoors or out as long as there is a sand court.
Young kids in Southern America and also in Spain and Portugal are brought up playing futsal and/or beach soccer, where they learn to pass and move the ball quickly and understand the importance of keeping possession. It is little wonder that when these kids start playing 11-a-side football they can easily outshine most European players who have grown up playing 7 or 11-a-side games outside on the grass.
There are obviously going to be some other influences as to why these players become so talented, such as the way they are coached. FC Barcelona seem to have the right formula at present and have earned great success from keeping the same unit of players together from a very young age.
The games of futsal and beach soccer are only just beginning to gain popularity in the UK. If they grow to the level they are at in Spain/Brazil then you never know, we might see a new style of English player progressing onto the world stage in the future.
Thanks to Richard Moore at Sheffield Hallam University’s Sports Industry Research Centre (and manager of Sheffield FC futsal)