Brazilian Soccer Schools, Leeds, England

HOTBED: Brazilian Soccer Schools, Leeds, England

A project, begun in 1998 by an elementary schoolteacher named Simon Clifford, that has transformed a former soccer backwater into a veritable factory of talented players. Its main tool: a Brazilian game called futbol de salao (“soccer in the room”), an indoor five-a-side version of the sport.  The ball is smaller and heavier—creating more control. The field is tiny—putting a premium on vision, anticipation, and quick, accurate passes. The play is lightning-fast—forcing players to anticipate and adapt. Exactly like the Little Books of the Bronte sisters, futbol de salao uses deep practice to build skills at high velocity. 

Growing A Star


Here’s a portrait of how futbol de salao helped create one of the world’s greatest players: Ronaldinho of Brazil. The first five minutes (which you can mostly fast-forward past) show his stupendous level of vision, ball control, and anticipation.


At the five minute mark, however, we see where it began: with tiny kids on a futbol de salao court. See how the small, heavy ball stays at their feet, allowing them the chance to control it over and over. The game has all the features of typical kids’ soccer game –the cute clumsiness, the cat-herding quality—with a vital addition: because the ball doesn’t bounce away, players can control it. Watch at the six-minutes mark as the blond kid make a nice breakaway. She makes nine touches in a few seconds, each of them different, each of them earning her a bit of skill.


At 6:15, we see a rare treat: home movies of ten-year-old Ronaldinho playing futsal (you might also recognize this from a recent Nike commercial) Watch at 6:40 when young Ronaldinho flicks the ball over an opponent’s head to set up a goal. At 8:30, we see him pull off the exact same move as an adult, with similarly glorious results. Commentators love to talk about how “creative” Brazilian players are – but that’s not quite right. The truth is, they’ve been practicing that creativity for their entire lives.

Exporting Genius

Here’s a look at John Farnworth, one of the English kids who’s used futbol de salao to pick up a few moves (to say the least). These tricks may not be used much in games (Farnworth has given up his aspirations to play professional soccer to become a freestyle performer), but they show the heights of ball-control that futbol de salao can create.


Futbol de salao develops skill circuits far faster than the outdoor game, because players:

  • Touch the ball more often—600 percent more often, according to one study. More touches—in other words, more circuit-firings—creates more skill.
  • Are forced to develop more moves. Merely booting the ball down the field—often the first option in the outdoor game—doesn’t work. Futbol de salao players practice lots of fakes and tricks—because they have to. As one Brazilian told me, “Futsal is our national laboratory of improvisation.”
  • Grow accustomed to operating in tight spaces. When they get to the outdoor game, futsal players feel as if they have all the room in the world.