SA plays football not soccer

There are some moments during the routine of writing match previews and reviews and confirming forthcoming fixtures (still a big issue in the local game, especially the checking of venues) where you come across something that changes your work day from mundane to good.

This happened the other day when I heard one Professor Neto speak at a function that I was initially reluctant to attend.

I felt the information about a coaching course could have been simply emailed or faxed to the media as opposed to a formal launch at a top beachfront hotel.

The place was almost as classy as the one where German national team manager Oliver Bierhoff fell victim to thieves two weeks ago while attending the Fifa 2010 World Cup Preliminary Draw, but that's just by the way.

Anyhow, the weather seemed perfect for getting out of the office and it was not long after the function that Professor Neto said in a noteworthy manner that a meaningful development of the game in this country should start with us deciding whether we wanted to play "football" or "soccer".

The white-haired, 74-year-old instructor from Brazil, whose full name is Manuel Espezim Neto, could not understand why we would choose to use both terms so coolly for something that Fifa and the whole world called football.

That's everybody except the Americans, of course.

"Our game is football, not soccer," he stressed to the small audience.

"Soccer is in America because they did not want to confuse it with American Football (Grid-iron).


"The Americans begged the Fifa Congress to allow them to call the game soccer in their country.

"We need to think about that."

Though soccer is the abbreviated term for association football developed by the English, Neto urged South Africans to stick to "football" for a simple reason.

"Football is played with the foot obviously. What is soccer played with?" he asked rhetorically in his best English.

Having heard such a reasonable argument from the Portuguese-speaking Brazilian, I felt I should endeavour to talk about football from now on, not soccer, and I hope you will do the same.

I know it's going to be hard because it's so ingrained, but let's try it together. What do you say?

Since last week, Neto and two countrymen from the Brazilian Football Academy are busy instructing about 60 local coaches at the KZN Coastal FET College in Umbumbulu, on the South Coast, until December 21.

The KZN Football Coaches Association, particularly their technical director Zipho Dlangalala, must be commended for putting the course together and keeping it closed to those who work at youth level.

Some assistance has been received from the provincial government.

The association, chaired by Golden Arrows coach Manqoba Mngqithi, is independent of the SA Football Association and is believed to be the only such body in the country.

A similar course was run last year.

Other insights from well-travelled Neto is that young players need 90 matches a year to "feel the game inside them" and that there are 90 000 football schools in Brazil with millions of instructors, many of whom also serve as role models for the kids because they used to be well-known pros.

Youngsters start wearing boots from the age of six or seven as part of the development process.

Another interesting fact from the ageing football lover and academic is that "every father in Brazil dreams of his son becoming the next Pele or Ronaldinho, but Brazilian football is not really Brazilian.

"Sixty percent of the population is black, not white. The reason for this is Africa. Our most important players are black. So I ask myself, why is Africa not champion of the world?"

South Africans, he pleaded, must desire to play the game at a higher level and "not the old players, old tactics and heavy football I watched on television the other day".

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