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.

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17 Responses to “Brazilian Soccer Schools, Leeds, England”

  1. Ian McClurg says:

    Daniel, I wanted to send you a quick note to let you know how much your work in “The Talent Code” has assisted us in establishing our Brazilian Soccer School in Burlington, Ontario. In Canada, we are trying to change “old thinking” that repeatedly playing games and stressing “winning versus development” is the correct education for young soccer players. Your work has assisted us to start to change some of these thoughts and has aided us greatly. Yesterday, I posted a new article on my blog and hope that I adequately protrayed your work. Thanks again.

  2. Brazillian soccer training methods definately has it’s merits.
    However, I believe there are a number of factors needed to develop a World Class player.
    First of all a God Given talent.Secondly, the player has to be self driven.Also,the training invironment and quality coaches who are good at motivating players.
    What are the other factors that make a top player ?
    The country and opportunities.In Europe soccer is a religion.Kids play at recess,in the streets,attend pro games and watch many pro games.Some times having the financial resources and supportive parents is a factor as well.
    World class players have come out of UK,France,Argentina,Portugal,Germany,Holland and Hungary.
    The French took some serious steps into player development 20 years ago and established formation centres.They studied the methods of the Dutch and Brazilian and added their own flavour.
    Since then they have produced stars like Thierry Henry and Zinedine Zidane.
    What makes the Brazilain produce a number of world stars is not just Futsal. It’s the culture. e.g. Music, playing on the sandy beaches for hours and poverty.Many poor kids looking for a way out.

    Lastly, there is more to developing a World Class player.
    I can teach my students all the Juggling and creative footwork.However, there has to be resistence in a game realistic situation. Also, the players have to be able to perform the moves or control the ball in a high level pressure situation.

    Clayton Rosario Port Colborne Niagara Region Ontario Canada

  3. Wilson says:

    The new Brazilian Futsal Academy is coming in Leeds in 2010!

  4. […] And that’s what I observed at the talent hotbeds like Meadowmount (where loops ruled), Brazilian futsal (home of fast, reactive spiderwebs), or the Bronte household (spiderwebs and […]

  5. Ala'a says:

    When I look again at soccer and remember all of the games I watched, when players plays in 16m from the goals spot we have ‘futbol de salao’. In another way if you can delete all of areas around the 16m square you can see it clearly!

  6. Clark says:

    FUTSAL ACADEMY in LEEDS! Soon, in 2010!

  7. […] Venice Beach skateboarders riding inside an empty swimming pool, Brazilian soccer players on the futbol de salao court, cricketer Don Bradman learning to hit by bouncing a golf ball off a dented water tank, or baseball […]

  8. Peter says:

    Hi Dan – How about an article on the hotbed which has become Jamaican sprinting?

  9. djcoyle says:

    Great idea. Some interesting stuff out of there, for sure. I wrote an article about American’s sprinting hotbeds for Outside magazine a while back — and one of the findings was that four of them were from the same small part of Delaware/New Jersey. Here’s the piece:

  10. Jim says:

    Im sorry Dan but I think you have this one wrong. While brazilian kids certainly develop their talents playing futsal, they do this in the context of playing a “game” because that is what soccer is “a game”. Organisations like brazilian soccer schools might make you a great individual trickster with a ball, but not neccessarily a great player of the “game” of soccer. To my knowledge we are not seeing a proliferation of brazilian soccer school trained youth on the world stage.

  11. Jim says:

    I am in no way disputing the immense skill of brazilian professional [and amateur] soccer players. I just don’t think any of the ones playing in the champions league or any other professional competition in the world have been anywhere near a Simon Clifford “brazilian soccer school”. Reading your blog again you weren’t really saying that anyway so thanks for your reply. Do love your work!

  12. djcoyle says:

    Hey Jim, I think you’re completely right — in this setup, SClifford is Johnny Appleseed and Brazil is the real apple orchard. Interesting to see how it takes root, and IF it takes root, over the next few years. All best, Dan

  13. Nick says:

    Jim and Dan.

    Great comments and it will be very interesting to see how it all pans out over the next 10 years, in England in particular seen as the FA is now using FUTSAL as part of its program.

    I personally think it is difficult to access the success of “Brazilian Soccer School” students in England at the moment due to influences of the coaches in the Academies and Centre of Excellences of professional clubs and also the amount of time it has been going.

    Obviously in its prime it was a way of life in Brazil so “Brazilian Soccer School’s” were everywhere and being played by everyone.
    It England not everyone is doing it the Brazilian way all of the time so very difficult to assess its impact.

    Hopefully over the next 10 years we can produce English players that can manipulate the ball as well as any Brazilian and have the heart of an English lion, and then surely we will win the World Cup!!!!

    If “Brazilian Soccer Schools” and Futsal do prove successful over in England and we win the World Cup on the back of it, then Dan you better get on a plane over here and bring your note book.

    Regards Nick

    PS Dan the Talent Code was a phenomenal read..

  14. Tim says:

    Hi all, first please don’t confuse futbol de salao and futsal of Brazilian Soccer Schools or the “tricksters” it is about “mastering your instrument”

    Having pride in mastering the ball. BSS uses different size balls and goal sizes in age groups. Futsal is part of the training. The futsal ball and futbol de salao ball is different!

    English players do. Not master the ball which is their downfall, look at the Japanese & Koreans the last few years! Spain’s over haul and its benefits, the English “grass roots” coaching organizations are resisting FA’s recommendations for change.

    Here in Asia when the BSS schools go against British based academies the play is night and day. British Academies teach a system of play, fixed positions and long ball passing and shots with less prevalence on individual development. BSS system develops the individual which is being seen like wild fire across UK in a relatively short amount of time! This is to hype.

    For all the naysayers, please tell me when a Professional academy went to a “winning” youth program with no “stars” but better than average players playing a strong system and set piece plays and said…..

    “Wow! We will take your whole team into our academy.” It will never happen! They search the world for the best “stand out individual” players. Players whom have mastered and distinguished themselves. THIS IS NOT what English grass roots programs are developing! Strong individual masters of the ball.

  15. Mel says:


    I am writing from Germany and my english is not the best! I read the book talent code in german over 10 times and after read it the first time, I began to practise with my son, who was 3,5 years old soccer. Today my son ist 6,5 years and he is one of the best tecnical player on his age in Germany and a big club drafted him.

    With excellent work you can reach a lot!

  16. Sabeen says:

    Great tips. Especially liked tip number five. I hope by saying “good writers are not superhumans” you’re only implying that writing as a skill can be learned and improved with practice. But I disagree in as much that no amount of practice can produce great writers such as Oscar Wilde or Orwell without the talent, imagination and sensitivity they display in their writings.I think one can be taught to ‘see’ where the ink is and to write well but the magic happens one is deeply connected with his ideas and can produce them effortkessly.

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