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Street Football

Was walking out from school when, on impulse, I decided to seek out Pao in the open courts. He wasn’t there, but I was surprised to find Allan and Cyrus having a kickabout all by their lonesome selves.

Funny, I told Cy, he often went missing when there was training; but there he was when none was scheduled.

Training does not resume until tomorrow, and Cy, I gathered, was ready to go back to the team after a stint at Teletech.

Cy is one of those kids who learned football playing on the streets. I’ve had a few. In Cy’s case, it was on the streets of Bahrain.

As a coach, I always prefer getting kids who know absolutely nothing about the game. That way, even the most basic skills are mine, and once these are learned, it’s a simple matter of teaching them to employ these skills in the execution of team tactics.

That is why it can be terribly frustrating to coach kids who have played football before. It’s all well and good if the basics are correct. It’s when you try to get them to unlearn bad habits that things can get really trying.

The problem with street football is that while a kid can become really comfortable dragging a football this way and that, the early learning comes within the confines of a limited space. Hence, a kid often learns to play looking down at the ball with and the need for peripheral awareness is not necessarily developed.

In the mid-nineties, I took on a young midfielder who we nicknamed Jutai. Having learned his football on the streets of Vienna, he was the archetypal example of a player who was comfortable with the ball but had limited vision.

In contrast, his kid brother Allen, who I taught from scratch, learned from the start to play with his head up and so developed a range of passing that the older brother never really had.

In Cy’s case, while I wouldn’t go to the extent of saying that his basics are wrong, I wouldn’t say they are right, either. Unorthodox, is more like it; un-coached football…

If I were to sum up Cy’s and Jutai’s predicament – you can also throw in Briggs and Yazan – it is the inability to see the logic of play beyond 20 yards.

The antithesis to all these is, of course, Yazan. He is skillful and, unlike those previously mentioned, he is totally aware of what is going on around him in a match. Whether he brings others into play, however, is not a matter of awareness but, rather, a matter of whether he wants to bring others in.

It’s a cultural thing, really… Having grown up in the Middle East – Jordan, in particular – where the South American influence in the style of football is unmistakable, he will prefer to use the ball to the point where he will obviously lose it before he even contemplates making a pass.

The assumption when one attempts to play South American football is, of course, that everyone on the pitch is of the same technical level. This is what Yazan, typically, has a hard time understanding.

The little matter of him being in the Philippines…

[This story was first published on Facebook on 17 June 2008.]

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