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  Wednesday, 20 March, 2002, 14:39 GMT
If you can't beat them...
Brazilian Juninho in action for Middlesborough
Juninho introduced Simon Clifford to futebol de salao
World Football's Mike Geddes reports on the man bringing a touch of samba magic out of Brazil and into the English game...

Kids playing football in the local park, urged on by mum and dad.

It's a familiar sight all over England every weekend, and for many of today's top players it was where they got their first taste of football.

But one man has spent the last ten years saying this isn't the way to teach the beautiful game.
Brazilian fans celebrate some samba magic
Brazil's fans are used to seeing the best

"I'd like to think I teach the antithesis of this kind of football' says Simon Clifford, a former primary school teacher in Leeds in the north of England.

"The coaches here are under pressure from the parents to win at all costs.

"And to win at a junior level is easy. The object is just to charge for goal as quick as you can and hope defenders make mistakes, and they often do.

"To play a passing game is much more difficult, and difficult to teach, but in the long term much better for the children.

"I believe that football should first be an individual sport. First master the ball, then you can master the game.

Brazilian legend Zico
'It makes the game easier' - Zico
"I see players now even playing for the England national team who can't master the ball, and that's wrong".

So, what's the answer?

Well, Simon thinks it's Futebol de Salao.

Pronounced 'football de salon' it means 'football of the hall', it's played 5-a-side on a small hard court, and it uses a rather unusual ball.

It's much smaller and heavier than an ordinary ball. The bladder is filled with foam as well as air to give the ball a 'dead weight', making it ideal for close control.

Futebol de salao began in Brazil, where a shortage or pitches meant the game was played inside on handball courts.

Jairzinho on his way to score for Brazil
Jairzinho learned his trade with futebol de salao
And if the kids from Simon's school in Leeds haven't quite mastered the pronunciation, they've certainly taken to a brand of football that's produced some of the greatest players in the world.

"I played the game all the time, and it made it easier for me to make the transition to regular football' says Brazilian legend Zico.

"Because you play in a gym there's less space. The ball is smaller, so when you play on a big pitch, the game is much easier".

And he's not the only one. Other Brazilian stars who grew up with futebol de salal include Pele, Jairzinho, Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Juninho.

It was while Juninho was with Middlesborough in England that he introduced Simon to the game.

"I found the approach in Brazil was very different" says Simon. "Most players didn't even play regular football until they were 15 or 16 years old".

Simon trains boys and girls from as young as five, and the emphasis is on skill, and individual confidence with the ball.

"Because the ball doesn't bounce you have to pass or dribble your way out of trouble - as the Brazilians say by 'beautiful football'" he says.
Ronaldo celebrates scoring for Brazil
Ronaldo also used futebol de salao

But apart from embarrassing me when I got nutmegged by an eight-year-old, can it do anything for the game at the highest level?

"For a long time I gave up watching professional football in this country, because I don't want to pay to watch players who can't touch the ball and pass" says Simon.

"And a lot of the players couldn't touch the ball as well as our kids.

"We've worked with Michael Owen and he said that if he'd have had the skills that some of our kids have it would have been a tremendous help to him".

There are now more than 250 FDS schools in the UK and Ireland, but Simon isn't stopping there.

"We've had a lot of interest from Africa" he says.
Michael Owen of England
'These skills would have helped me' - Owen

"I'd like to take the game out there because Zico said to me those countries are the nearest he's seen to having the same passion and belief in the game as the Brazilians, and he sees them as the future.

"It's my hope that in the future we have some of the technically best players in the world coming from England.

You can hear all of Mike Geddes' report on futebol de salao in World Football on Saturday 16 March on BBC World Service. Check local listings for exact times. Or you can use the audio link at the top of the page.

World Football's Mike Geddes
'If you can't beat them, join them'

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