“Jogo Bonito”. The Beautiful Game. That’s the term that the great Brazilian master Pele popularized when he spoke of Football and Soccer in decades past. But it was more of an encouragement, yearning and urging than an assessment of the state of the sport.
Surely, at its purest form, Football and Soccer are an endless joy and a fountain of memorable thrills. The question though is: is what we all witness and experience on the pitch, from the sandlots and pick-up games of enthusiastic youths, up through World Cup finals matches, true expressions of “Jogo Bonito”?
Soccer? Well … maybe not quite.
First, we need to make the distinction that there are 5 separate genres and levels of the game. All are wonderful and exhilarating, and they include the common stages that players go through, although most will not experience or achieve all 5 in their careers, mainly due a lack of coaching, skills development, perseverance and the necessary displays of exemplary play for them to try to copy and strive to master, among other factors.
The first stage is Group Kick & Run … the stuff that you see tons of supervised, and often unsupervised, young children running around a field chasing a soccer ball doing during games and practices. It’s the sport at its most basic, raw and arguably most spirited stage. It generally describes what you’ll see most of the time when you combine a soccer ball plus swarms of children (between the ages of 3 and generally as old as 10, or older, but there are exceptions) playing their hearts out to try and score goals. It’s an effervescent showing of disorganized yet satisfying, delicious, chaos commonly played many times in front of equally animated moms and dads.
Kick & Run is not a pejorative term or description. It’s simply an unavoidable phase that players go through when they launch their playing days and careers. We’ve all ‘been there’ and enthusiastically ‘done that’. It resembles little actual ‘Soccer’, using the definition you’ll read below. And it’s undeniably extremely valuable and necessary in order for players to develop. It’s how kids begin to log their instincts of how to play the game, plus how to behave in a group or team sport setting. Really good and important stuff — and such loads of fun to play and watch, too.
Eventually, kids graduate to a more organized level and expression of the sport known as Kickball …not quite Soccer just yet, but it’s another key phase where their skills and instincts are developed to the point where the game is more spread-out, with less congested play and continual scrumming. Hints of Football and Soccer begin to sprout during this critical Kickball stage. Players’ actual abilities are more noticeable, and the pace of their retainable technical skills development is accelerated. The ages where Kickball begins to take hold are generally in the 7 to 12 year-old range, although there are exceptions north and south of that span. It’s generally the phase where we learn if we have either a budding prodigy on our hands, or an enthusiast who will go as far as the desire takes him or her — although many eventual stars are later bloomers that take-off during their teens.
The teenage years brings many (not all) players into the third phase of the sport which is Power Kickball . It’s organized, higher speed Kickball with greater athletic, physical, technical and team play skills on display. The playing is more sophisticated primarily because so is the coaching, plus the player’s understanding and awareness of what they see other more talented players doing that they try and emulate. Most players, unfortunately, will never rise above the level of Power Kickball , not because of a lack of desire and commitment, but due to a dearth of coaching and outstanding talent-laden Football or Soccer being played by maestros of the sport, that’s accessible, viewable and readily duplicable by students motivated by the showcasing of superior talent.
This scarcity of replicable, inspirational, high-caliber Football or Soccer is a condition that afflicts most (not all) players in the United States. It’s true that the sport is on many TV and cable outlets, either in live games or on Football digest shows, but what most players lack, lest for the few passionate and possessed Football and Soccer junkies who channel surf and spend lots of time ingesting and dissecting the nuances of the sport, is the total cultural immersion that provides an immense advantage to students and players in other Football-crazed countries where the sport is undeniably king, and the popularity, playing level and ubiquitousness of quality displays of the sport is unparalleled.
In many other nations, learning to play the game well is the optimal thing to do. In the United States, except for a much lower percentage of lifers than elsewhere, Soccer is one of many sports and activities that can consume a player’s attention.
Advantage: the rest of the world, in most instances.
The Difference Between Football And Soccer
Which brings us to the final two genres of the sport: Football and Soccer . Yup — there is a difference. Football is what you’ll see at the college and pro levels being played in most nations that have evolved in the sport. It’s a higher art form than Power Kickball, with much greater skills, precision, physicality and tactics in the mix. More precisely, Football is what you’ll see, or have experienced on average, up to 95 percent of the time you’ve ever watched a game at the highest levels anywhere in the world — from college to World Cup finals.
That’s right … what you’re watching is the more staccato brand of the sport known that is Football , which is distinguishable from pure, true, indescribably wonderful Soccer in that it certainly does the trick as far as fulfilling the optimal thrill of seeing magnificent demonstrations of uncanny, refined, talent, instincts and mastery of the sport — but it ain’t quite Soccer .
Football is truly great stuff, and worth the devotion and price of admission, in most instances, despite often leaving the fans of the losing side disappointed when the results don’t add up to the expectations. Football is what we mostly see during the televising and stadium visits to watch the highest level of matches available. More precisely, what you’re liable to witness on the college or pro level is some combination of Football, Power Kickball, and an even patches of unfulfilling, plain old Kickball, which will combine to occupy up to 95% of the match and, not uncommonly, could wind up being the entire 100% of the experience.
Which means that, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch 5% of true “Jogo Bonito” — King Soccer, played the way it was meant to be played. Simple, give-and-go, one-touch, daisy-cutting, fluid, dynamic, beautiful Soccer … the kind you would have witnessed maybe 10-15% of the time during matches if you were lucky enough to be around to experience the glory years of Dutch ‘Total Soccer’ of the 70’s and Hungarian Golden Team Soccer of the 50’s — superior genius clusters of well-coached players that brought the game to unmatched heights because of their brand of Football that we can now look back and marvel at for being the greatest forays into the rarified zone of 10-15% ‘Jogo Bonito’ Soccer .
There have been greater teams than these two masterful practitioners of higher-grade, higher-percentage Soccer which, by the way, both happened to have never won a World Cup. The Brazilian National Team led by Pele in 1970 is regarded as arguably the most talented and greatest ‘Dream Team’ of all-time … but even their style was often mostly highly-skilled, staccato, retention-filled Football , only occasionally showing the 10+% of the fluidity threshold that is the hallmark of true, one-touch, world-class Soccer .
They were surely magicians with the ball that relied on dribbling and other balletic ball-control flourishes to keep their legions of aficionados spellbound; but as far as being purveyors of Soccer , given the definition and standards that I just laid out, they were up there, but didn’t reach the altitudes of the Dutch and Hungarians on the true, pure Soccer grand scheme of things. Yes — you can have incredible success and reach mesmerizing heights with Football .
In fact, that’s what every World Cup Champion there ever was, did.
There are some individuals that qualify as masters of Soccer because of their propensity and determination to play true, fluid, one-touch Soccer 10-15% of the time. Such luminaries of recent vintage include Yaya Toure, Andrea Pirlo, Mohammed Elneny, Thiago Motta, Carlos Valderrama and Lionel Messi (plus many other world-class players).
They go out of their way to simplify the game, thus providing the true essence and joy of effective, clean, crisp Soccer , with upwards of 10-15% of their performance and touches.
Why USA Will Stand Out As A Soccer Nation
Which brings us to why the US will eventually stand out as the greatest Soccer playing country on earth, capable of consistently playing true Soccer an unheard of 15-20% of games — and at any age group, no less. It’s because not having Football at our finger-tips as our model, round the clock, on TV, which developing youths can and will rely on, has a silver lining. US kids, while valuing witnessing top flight games and players whenever they can on TV and in-person at pro matches, can enjoy the advantage of not having stop-and-go, retention-filled Football be their sole North Star.
Since they are not bound and limited by seeing and learning just Football , they can also incorporate a greater concentration of fluid Soccer into their skill set, and assimilate it into their play.
Like any other sport, the road begins with solid coaching and commitment. And if you believe in factors such as American exceptionalism, and the value of rah-rah enthusiasm; superior field, equipment and training resources; financial support; plus nutritional and other elements that can play a major role in developing the American Soccer landscape, then there’s an even greater reason to expect that high-performance, US Soccer is in the offing.
“Jogo Bonito” — American style … coming with more consistency and effective simplicity to a neighborhood near you soon … you watch!
Written by Ray Lindenberg
Follow Ray on Twitter @ProPrepSoccer
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