Forget Neymar and Brazil! Hong Kong needs to copy Kylian Mbappe, Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne to secure success
City’s coaches should follow the templates of European triumph at Russia 2018 if they are to improve Fifa and Asia rankings
Um, dois, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis … all the way to 10, and repeat. This was how Brazilian coach Alex would conduct his football drills to Hong Kong kids about a decade ago, peppering the monotonous counting with rhythmic claps not dissimilar to a traditional samba beat.
We played with futsal balls – smaller and heavier than footballs so as to improve our touch – and were taught to run as if the floor was on fire to heighten reactions and agility.
I loved it.
As a Real Madrid-aspiring, Ronaldinho-worshipping, “Joga Bonito” Nike ad-bingeing teen, “learning to play the Brazilian way” via the then-called Brazilian Soccer Schools was the dream.
A couple of my classmates were regulars – and by no coincidence, the best footballers in school – whereas I would sign up for the seasonal holiday courses to float above the average-level schoolboy or girl.
There was not a doubt in any of our young minds that imitating the Selecao was not only going to win us matches, but make us look cool at the same time – both of which were of paramount priority at school.
Those were the days of ginga (Brazilian Portuguese slang for “swagger” and the theme of another Nike campaign) and f utebol de salao (futsal) – the fast-paced, tight perimeter, silky style of Brazilian football. Stepovers, nutmegs, and shouting “olé” was the fad and rightly so. After all, the incumbent Brazilian national team were only further widening the gap between them and the rest of the world, just as the legendary Pele, Garrincha and Jairzinho did before them.
Neymar's new goal celebration looks familiar... pic.twitter.com/1KU6gPQsWh
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) 5 September 2018
Then came Neymar Jnr, the flamboyant teen from Santos who eventually made his blockbuster move to Europe. Neymar would be the next phenom to lead the on-pitch samba swagger. He was an instant hit with the Brazilian, Spanish and French youngsters, what with all his trendsetting antics on social media and at red-carpet events.
Neymar was bubble-wrapped and nurtured by his more than competent teammates and Brazil continued to be the team to beat until they were shamed 7-1 on home turf by Germany in the 2014 World Cup semi-finals.
The whole nation was left aghast and there will forever be that meme of the old Dolmio man-looking Brazil fan cradling his knock-off trophy. Brazilian football took a blow to the jaw and it has not been walking the same since.
That is not to say Brazil will not return, nor does it mean Neymar is not capable of taking the Ronaldo-Messi reins.
It just means the football seismograph is getting stronger readings elsewhere.
Now we have fresh World Cup holders France and neighbours Belgium leading the new wave of effective football. Gone are the days of rabonas and rainbow flicks – now it’s about speed, precision and agility, the likes of which Eden Hazard, Kylian Mbappe and Kevin de Bruyne possess.
And that is why, unfortunately for the Brazilian contingent over here, we should be moving with the times. How will local kids improve if they are taught a washed-up style of play?
Surely if we are already complaining about Hong Kong failing to show signs of improvement despite the unjustifiable investment going into the sport – and a lack of movement in the Fifa and Asian rankings – we might as well take the leap?
With most of the Chinese Super League’s imports coming from Brazil, why can’t us minnows lay the groundwork for a European approach to football?
We will reap the benefits after a few years when the Brazilians cash in and China is left with a mismatch of locals and international showboaters.
How about introducing a French Soccer School in Admiralty with breakout star Mbappe as the face of it all? Or a Belgian Soccer School in the Mong Kok with a commemorative visit from dazzling forward Hazard … or even his brother, Thorgan?
That way, Hong Kong kids will learn to prioritise positional and tactical play– not how many stepovers they can do – striving to pass like De Bruyne, track back like Kante, defend like Varane.
It may not be as groovy, but it will get results. Isn’t that what the government wants, anyway?