If soccer were a different ball game

13th February 1998 at 00:00
It may be too late to help our boys in France this summer, but a miniature football game from Brazil could be the key to revolutionising English soccer.

Futebol de salao taught Pele everything he knew as a boy, and helped Juninho, the Brazilian mid-fielder, develop the breath-taking skills he displayed at Middlesbrough last year.

Simon Clifford, who is a friend of Juninho's and a Leeds primary teacher, believes it is Brazil's secret weapon in its World Cup success - and he has a mission to bring it to British schools.

Futebol de salao uses a special ball, costing about Pounds 5, which is smaller and harder than ordinary ones. Five-a-side teams play on basketball-size courts or fields - about a third of the full-sized pitch. Futebol de salao was originally played at the turn of the century on courts for handball games in overcrowded cities. The ball is also heavier which helps players develop their technique.

Glenn Hoddle, the England coach, and his assistant, John Gorman, are so interested in the game that they are planning a trip to Brazil. Everton are also keen on the idea.

Mr Clifford, a football coach who also teaches at Corpus Christi primary, visited Brazil last summer as he worked on a book about futebol de salao with Juninho. He visited schools and soccer clubs and was so impressed that he returned to found the English Schools Confederation of Futebol de Salao which has spread to 40 schools in his area.

Mr Clifford said: "We wouldn't want to replace the traditional game, but we would like to run the Brazilian model in conjunction with it. I hope everyone will play it as the kids find it a lot more fun - they get more touches of the ball. It's a faster game. Unlike our five a side, they can't play off the walls; it's a big benefit having to play the ball on the floor."

Malcolm Berry, chief executive of the English Schools Football Association, said any game for young children that was small-sided and developed skills should be encouraged. The ESFA had a strong programme of small-sided games, he added. The two techniques will be put to the test on March 14 when England under-15s play Brazil in an invitation international at Wembley.

And with the World Cup looming in France, the home side will need all the help they can get.

Information from Simon Clifford or Tony Doyle, 34 Chandos Place, Leeds LS8 1QS.

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