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Last Updated: Monday, 24 September 2007, 07:52 GMT 08:52 UK
Tim Vickery column
Tim Vickery
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

Kerlon's new move has upset some players and onlookers in Brazil
Kerlon has caused Brazilian football to take a look at itself
More than any other factor, Brazilian football owes its worldwide prestige to the individual brilliance and creativity of its top players.

Take Leonidas and his bicycle kicks, Didi and his 'dry leaf' free-kicks, the amazing dribbles of Garrincha and the countless innovations of Pele.

So the Brazilian game has been having a long, hard look at itself in the past week as a result of the violent reaction to yet another local creation - Kerlon's so-called 'seal dribble'.

Nineteen-year-old Kerlon has developed an ability to flick the ball into the air and then run while balancing it on his forehead - a bit like a circus seal.

He first revealed the move some two-and-a-half-years ago in the South American Under-17 Championship.

He has had an injury-hit time since then, but is now starting to make the breakthrough in senior football as a second-half substitute for Cruzeiro of Belo Horizonte, currently second in the Brazilian league table.

Just over a week ago he unleashed the seal dribble in the big local derby against Atletico.

Opposing defender Coelho barged him to the ground, while other Atletico players screamed at him in anger.

Many people in the Brazilian game - including, it seems, national team coach Dunga, seem to think they were justified in their reaction.

How can this possibly be explained in the land traditionally viewed as the spiritual home of the beautiful game?

The answer touches on one of football's great truths; the game is indeed a universal language, but one which is spoken with different accents.

Different cultures find different things objectionable.

British players are liable to be angered by diving or by attempts to get an opponent sent off.

These practices are more widely accepted in Brazil as part of the game.

But if you want to start a war on a Brazilian pitch, a touch of ball juggling in the closing stages of a game your team is winning will quickly light the touch paper.

In a very hierarchical society, the player who comes up with a new trick is a pawn who has turned the tables and become a king

This will be seen as unpardonable provocation - and that is an explosive quantity on a Brazilian football field.

The noted Brazilian anthropologist Roberto da Matta has written that unlike European football, the game in his country "is a source of individual expression much more than an instrument of collectivisation".

He continued that it was a battle of "individual wills who seek to escape from the cycle of defeat and poverty".

In a very hierarchical society, the player who comes up with a new trick is a pawn who has turned the tables and become a king.

It perhaps helps explain why Brazilian football has come up with so many moments of individual genius - and also why those on the receiving end of the move feel especially humiliated.

Their personal defeat is being publicly rubbed into their nose.

Kerlon's problem is that his seal dribble is being viewed as a provocation.

Even if he unleashes it - as he usually does - on the way towards goal, with the objective of rounding the defence and getting in a shot - the defender feels that the whole thing has been done with the sole aim of making him look foolish.

It is for this reason that many in the game are of the view that he should never try the move when his team are winning.

But there are others, especially in the media, who are arguing that while the sport continues to come up with such moments of individual flair, the game of football is winning.


Got a question about South American football for Tim Vickery? Email him at

In England, we seem to have a conveyor belt of what are colloquially referred to as "box-to-box-midfielders" and I can't think of any Brazilians who currently fit that type. Are there any?
Aidan, Bristol

Lucas, now of Liverpool, is their big hope in this area. Had he not been injured earlier this year I suspect that he might have gone to the Copa America.

He did come off the bench when Brazil played Algeria in August, but now of course his international chances are being hit by his lack of first team action.

The former Sao Paulo duo, Mineiro and Josue, now both in Germany are in the national squad.

They have box-to-box lung power, but Lucas, with his passing and powerful shooting, has much more to offer.

In recent times Brazilian football has tended to separate the midfield quartet into two primarily defensive and two mainly attacking players, though there are signs of more variety coming through.

Yesterday I saw young Cruzeiro central midfielder Ramires burst forward to score a superbly taken goal against Vasco da Gama.

I've noticed that River Plate midfielder Fernando Belluschi has been scoring some incredible goals lately, most notably his hat-trick against Velez Sarsfield. How good do you think he is?
Liam, Leicestershire

Now we have an exact example of the kind of box-to-box midfielder that Aidan was asking about.

His coach Daniel Passarella rates him as a $40m player. He's very dynamic, excellent at timing his forward runs and he packs a fearsome shot.

He, perhaps, lacks some subtlety, which I think was partly responsible for the patchy time he's had since becoming the kingpin over the River Plate midfield - maybe his style is more suited to the counter-attack than to plotting his way through packed defences.

At 24 he's approaching a key year, because I'll be very surprised if he's still in Argentina in 12 months' time.

You can watch the 'seal dribble' on You Tube.

Tim Vickery column
10 Sep 07 |  Internationals


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