Occasionally you hear how poverty is the invisible hand that lifts players to the highest levels of glory. How favelas, housing projects, and dirt floors seemingly are the wings that professional careers take flight on. Desire and ambition hatching most fiercely from a ghetto’s faint glow. However, what if professional glory was grounded more on, well, the ground. Although poverty is often romanticized as that special ingredient that propels the careers of countless pros from Neymar to Zlatan, perhaps the answer is a bit more concrete.
In the States, pick up soccer played on a hard surface like that of a basketball court is rare. However, in places like Brazil, concrete futsal courts are the norm. Children in the favelas and urban areas may go their entire childhoods without ever playing on grass. Half of Brazil’s most recent national team started in futsal academies. Greats like Pelé, Socrates, Zico, and Ronaldo all swear by it. In the way the U.S. has vibrant high school basketball leagues, so the Brazilians have futsal ones. Yet here in the States many a youth soccer coach is wary of the sport. The toe poke is as welcome as a mosquito bite. Perhaps unknown to these well intentioned coaches, futsal courts from Argentina to Spain to Croatia to Sweden are the norm. But don’t take my word for it. Instead take a peek as the mighty Zlatan nearly comes to tears revisiting the court that incubated his dreams. (min 7:45)
In the States many tears are shed over why our players so lack the skills and strategies needed to excel at the highest levels. Doesn’t grass often cause watery eyes? It’s time to toss the Visine, dust off the Sambas, and sprint down to the local basketball court. Futsal will be a major reason the U.S. eventually hoists a World Cup. Ball don’t lie.