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Samba school comes of age

When the highly-rated young Brazilian midfielder Juninho arrived at Middlesbrough in 1995, it was a step into the unknown for English football. Mirandinha had already been and gone at Newcastle, but the fact that Juninho's arrival was met by masses of fans wearing Mexican sombreros illustrates the sizes of the cultural leap at that time.

Braziliant Soccer Schools

The intense excitement his arrival inspired among fans meant Simon Clifford, then a primary school teacher, was unable to secure one of the club's standard-price season tickets. In the end, he was forced to buy a ticket for one of the more expensive seats at the ground, where he was seated in and among the players' relatives. Over the course of the 1995-96 campaign, he managed to strike up a friendship with Juninho's father, who was sitting just a couple of rows away.

Clifford then befriended Juninho, too, and came to learn that the club's new superstar had been appalled by the off-field standards. Clifford told The Times in 2007: "He came over here on four times the money he was used to and he expected things to be four times better, but Sao Paulo had five training centres like nothing you'd ever seen and Middlesbrough were training in a prison with dog s*** on the pitch."

In 1996, with the support of Juninho, Clifford set up Brazilian Soccer Schools (BSS) to try to improve standards. It has grown into the world's largest football coaching organisation, and Clifford now has links with many of the greatest players ever to represent Brazil, even managing to bring over the likes of Socrates and Careca to play for his non-league side, Garforth Town.

With over a million players between the ages of five and 18 taking part at BSS centres from countries including America, Australia, the Netherlands, India, Nigeria and South Africa, it has already achieved great success but Clifford says it has not yet come close to matching his ambitions.

"We have achieved a lot since we began 15 years ago in 1996, but I still see that period as our infancy," he tells ESPNsoccernet. "We have already made great strides in improving the standard of coaching but there's much more to do, and we will only see the real fruits of our labour at the Brazilian Soccer Schools and SOCATOTS [aimed at children from six months to five years] in years to come."

A short film has been produced to mark the organisation's 15th year. It features Micah Richards, the organisation's most high-profile graduate to date, as well as the legendary former Brazil captain Carlos Alberto, world champion freestyler John Farnworth and BSS pupil Nathan Merchant.

"The film was a long time in planning as I wanted something that encapsulated all that we do at the Brazilian Soccer Schools," Clifford adds. "We ended up having three days to coordinate a former World Cup-winning captain in Carlos, a Guinness World Record holder in John Farnworth and England's youngest ever defender in Micah Richards, but it all paid off.

"The short film captures the various stages of our work, from the youngest players at the Schools - represented by Nathan Merchant - through to John and Micah, and then the expertise we're able to bring to the organisation and those involved with it, represented by Carlos' cameo."

Carlos Alberto, who has taken coaching seminars at the organisation's annual course in Leeds, captained the 1970 Brazil team and scored one of the all-time great goals to cap off the 4-1 victory over Italy in the final. That side - featuring Pele, Jairzinho, Rivelino and Gerson - is often hailed as the best the world has seen, and he puts their success down to hard work.

"The issue is not enough English players playing regularly at the top level," Carlos Alberto tells ESPNsoccernet. "There's Walcott, Cole, Richards, but not many more.

"When I look at how much we trained when I played, you couldn't get players to do that today. We became the best in the world in 1970 because we trained the hardest, but we perhaps don't see that today."

"Things can be complicated, and today with some players, the attitude and behaviour does not allow them to develop fully."

He adds: "People talk about tactics, but the game is very simple: work harder than the others, pass the ball, shoot; when you don't have the ball, tackle, block; when you have a free-kick, score. Simple."

A new wave of potential Brazilian greats has emerged in recent times, with Santos duo Neymar and Ganso and Sao Paulo's Lucas all tipped for the top, but they are expected to leave their homeland before long and Carlos Alberto feels that trend is a cause for concern.

"We have the problem in Brazil of players leaving the country too early, before they've developed, and it's something I'm looking at. We do have players still coming through, however, which is something we don't see in England as often."


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