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Kerlon: Skill or Provocation?


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First the act

Unique ‘seal dribble’ sparks controversy in Brazilian soccer

By TALES AZZONI The Associated Press | 4:42 AM

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Ingenious or incendiary, promising or provocative, the "seal dribble" is stirring up quite a controversy in Brazil.

Cruzeiro playmaker Kerlon, the 19-year-old midfielder at the centre of the debate, confounds and irritates opponents by repeatedly bouncing the ball off his head to run past defenders.

With the ball out of reach, opposing players find it hard to stop Kerlon without fouling him.

But some players say the move is disrespectful because it breaks unwritten soccer ethics, and they argue that Kerlon uses the move to show off, not to try to score goals.

"It is a provocation. He may have to be sidelined for several years if he gets kicked in the face," former Brazil goalkeeper and current Atletico Mineiro coach Emerson Leao said. "I hope that never happens."

Kerlon’s latest balancing act caused a nationally televised brawl Sunday after Cruzeiro beat rival Atletico Mineiro 4-3 in the Brazilian league.

Shortly after Cruzeiro took the lead for good, Kerlon decided to try the move. He bounced the ball on his head three times before Atletico defender Coelho levelled him with a hard tackle.

Atletico players charged Kerlon, screaming at him and accusing him of provoking them with the dribble. Kerlon’s teammates came to his rescue, but the scuffle lasted several minutes.

Coelho was ejected from the match because of the foul, and the controversy was installed.

"What Kerlon did was not right," Atletico striker Marinho said. "We know he is a skilful player, but I think it would be wrong even if he was playing for us."

Kerlon is undeterred by the critics.

"It’s my move," Kerlon said. "It’s not the first time I do it and it won’t be the last.

"We need to decide what we want in soccer. Is it the beautiful play or the violent play? Brazilian soccer has always been about skilful players, not violent players," Kerlon added. "I’ll never stop doing the play. They’ll need to create a new law if they want me to stop."

The majority of Brazil’s soccer analysts have sided with Kerlon.

"He has the right to keep using the seal dribble anytime he wants," said Paulo Vinicius Coelho, an analyst with the Lance sports daily.

"He only does it because he is able to," GloboEsporte columnist Ledio Carmona said. "Those who are not can only applaud."

Coelho, the Atletico defender, could be suspended for more than a year because of the foul on Kerlon, according to Brazil’s top sports tribunal regulations.

"(Kerlon) acted within the law. He did nothing wrong," Paulo Schmitt, the sports tribunal attorney-general, told the Agencia Estado news service. "Coelho is the one who went too far."

Coelho denies he committed the foul because he was upset with the move.

"It was a hard foul, but I was only trying to keep him from advancing," he said. "I wasn’t trying to hurt him."

Fluminense defender Luiz Alberto said Wednesday that Coelho did the right thing.

"I know I may be punished for what I’m going to say, but I would take Kerlon out if I was in Coelho’s position," Luiz Alberto said. "That (dribble) disrespects the players who are on the other side."

Although Kerlon’s dribble is legal, referees can punish players if they feel there is an intention to provoke opponents or if it’s not considered fair game.

A player for Brazil’s Sport club received a yellow card in a match in 2002 after he did the "step over" dribble, stopping in front of a defender and moving his feet over the ball several times before trying to get past him. The referee said he was trying to provoke the players from the other team.

Cruzeiro, however, said it fully supports Kerlon and will do whatever it can to keep protect him.

"Kerlon is not going to be intimidated with threats on or off the field," club director Valdir Barbosa said. "He will be encouraged to use the dribble whenever he feels it’s necessary. He doesn’t use it to fool around, he tries to score goals with it."

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All power to Kerlon, it is good to see things stirred up with innovation. If he is able to parlay his parlour ball skills into a tactical advantage to his team, that is fair ball and a development for football. It would be especially sad to see this development stymied in Brazil, of all places. Crisitano Ronaldo is a jerk, but his biciclettas have added needed spice to English club football.

Hopefully the refs and the football authourities back Kerlon up, instead of sinking into a shell. Reminds me of the delay in reacting to the brutal football of the 1960`s and 1970`s in response to the skill of players like Pele, Eusibio and many of the Dutch that was epitomized in the 1966, 1974 and 1978 World Cups. For 1970 they brought in rules such as yellow cards to protect good play, but then the refs and the authorities reverted to allowing negative football. The refs and authourities turned their eyes away from brutal play used to stifle creative play. It almost allowed Argentina, and Germany to win in 1966, prevented Brazil and Portugal from being as successful as they should have been in 1966, and prevented the Dutch from winning in 1974 and 1978.

If players want to defend against head dribbling, then they are free to "tackle" them by similiar (non-dangerous) head moves or the use of their upper bodies to deflect or capture the ball (not to bowl the guy over like in the video). Because a player advances the ball with head dribbling, that should not allow the ref to turn his eyes away from dangerous kicks in the vicinity of the advancing player`s head (such as stupidly suggested by the Atletico manager[:o)]) which would normally be called, such as in free ball situations. If defending players can not adopt to this or other aspects of the aerial game (which to me is one of the most exciting aspects of football), then they should give up football and take up kickboxing, rugby or Australian Rules.

See interesting Wikipedia entry on "seal dribble" and attached videos links:

--------------------------------

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seal_dribble

The seal dribble is a football tactic. It is mainly used by Kerlon, a football player from Brazil. He has said to have learned it from his father. Kerlon debuted the move at the U17 South American Youth Championship.

The move consists of various steps and has many benefits. The seal dribble makes it very hard for the defending team to challenge legally. Swiftly flicking the ball up from the turf onto the head, the player then proceeds to glide past opponents, whilst bouncing the ball on top of their forehead. The speed at which he travels when doing this, coupled with his unique ability to change direction as he runs with the ball above his head, often makes bewildered opponents resort to simply pushing them over and fouling them.

This move has been used by Kerlon, when he has the chance, in the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A. It was also rumoured that Sir Alex Ferguson was interested in the player and that he might bring the seal dribble to the Premiership and Manchester United. These rumours were played down, however, when Kerlon announced his preference for Spain over England.

Another player who is known for using the seal dribble tactic is the Norwegian striker Daniel Braaten, who is currently with the club Bolton Wanderers.

[edit] External links

Seal Dribble Video

Daniel Braaten Seal Dribble

Kerlon Seal Dribble

Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seal_dribble"

----------------

This is not sudden news, Kerlon and the move were reported on 2 1/2 years ago:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/4455669.stm

The issue then about how to defend against such move remains unanswered.

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I was upset when he and the Brasil Youth team came to Vancouver and he was unfit to play following a knock he took in training...

All power to him...This would be like some mucker hammering Ronaldinho for his elastico dribble, none else can do it...so what...

Sounds like sour grapes by washed up hacks that couldn't cut it in Europe...the only great players in that league are under 22 and have yet to go to Europe, the rest are washed up or were never good enough.

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Your comment may be a little harsh because there are quite a number of very good players over 22 in the Brazilian League. In fact, Atletico Mineiro is the club that Gilberto Silva left to come to Arsenal... at 26. Mineiro left Sao Paulo at 32 for Hertha Berlin. Josue just left Sao Paulo for Wolfsburg after impressing at the Copa America and he was 28. Kleber, who played for Brazil on their recent tour of the USA, is 27 and plays for Santos. And there are others.

However, there a few players on every team that are simply making up the numbers.

quote:Originally posted by Johnnyranger

...the only great players in that league are under 22 and have yet to go to Europe, the rest are washed up or were never good enough.

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What happened to JOGA BONITO??! punk just lays a shoulder into him but could've blocked him and just challenged for the header, then all his punk teammates come over and start shoving people around like they've been insulted. I see nothing wrong with that. How can the game ever develop if new moves are allowed to be body checked and kicked in the face? I remember Robinho getting carded for "too many stepovers" because the ref feared other players would boot him into the upper decks. Sad.

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Guest Jeffery S.

For me everything goes, it is about entertaining people in the stands. Some moves can happen anytime in a game, out of perceived necessity, so to see them in a close competitive match when things count is great. I was in the stands for one of Ronadlinho's first passes off his back (high ball, turns away and knocks it off his back in the other direction), and I think the game was tied when he did it. That is love of the game. If Higuita had done that scorpion kick stop in a competitive game and not that friendly it would have been worth a lot more (or did he do it once in a real match?).

I can understand that if you are losing by four late and frustrated, some grandstanding by those dominating might be irritating. But even then, sometimes when the game is in the bag is when you can let loose and have some fun. So maybe it is the perfect time to show off a bit, hell, even for the losing team to do so.

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Something that is being forgotten in all of this is that this match between Clube Atletico Mineiro and Cruzeiro is the classico in Belo Horizonte. It would be like a Rangers player doing that against Celtic or a player from Inter doing it against AC Milan. The emotions would have been running very high already before the attempted move and in front of about 45,000 fans (44,686 officially) in the stands and no doubt a large TV audience. Don't think this incident wouldn't have happened in Europe (consider the Boulahrouz challenge on Cristiano Ronaldo in WC 2006).

But like everyone else, there is nothing in the rules that says it can't be done so I am all for it. Besides it is this kind of offensive risk-taking that makes the Brazilian leagues interesting.

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quote:Originally posted by Canuck Oranje

But like everyone else, there is nothing in the rules that says it can't be done so I am all for it. Besides it is this kind of offensive risk-taking that makes the Brazilian leagues interesting.

Actually, couldn't it easily be construed as dangerous-play by a referee. Just like sitting on the ball? Should players be able to trap the ball between thigh and chest and hop (one-footed) down the field?

Mike.

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Guest Jeffery S.
quote:Originally posted by BHTC Mike

Actually, couldn't it easily be construed as dangerous-play by a referee. Just like sitting on the ball? Should players be able to trap the ball between thigh and chest and hop (one-footed) down the field?

Mike.

It seems that as long as you are standing you can play it as you please. How hitting the ball of your own head a few times could be dangerous I can't fathom.

What gets me is that you teach 7 year olds to do basic practice drills which might include something like this, and then, when someone uses it in a game when he's 17, folks get all worried. Great, let's not apply what we practice, god forbid. I mean, get worried when 17 year olds are doing things they have not practiced, like deliberately slide tackling ankles or booting the ball towards the nearest satellite.

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I believe there is a story out there that Pele had done something similar during a testimonial match. But of course this was a classico match. The difference between trapping a ball and doing what Kerlon did is that the ball is not completely under control (at least not in a truely technical sense). Consider challenges on a goalkeeper as a comparison.

quote:Originally posted by Jeffrey S.

It seems that as long as you are standing you can play it as you please. How hitting the ball of your own head a few times could be dangerous I can't fathom.

What gets me is that you teach 7 year olds to do basic practice drills which might include something like this, and then, when someone uses it in a game when he's 17, folks get all worried. Great, let's not apply what we practice, god forbid. I mean, get worried when 17 year olds are doing things they have not practiced, like deliberately slide tackling ankles or booting the ball towards the nearest satellite.

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Tim Vickery column

By Tim Vickery

South American football reporter

Read my answers to this week's questions

Kerlon has caused Brazilian football to take a look at itself

More than any other factor, Brazilian football owes its worldwide prestige to the individual brilliance and creativity of its top players.

Take Leonidas and his bicycle kicks, Didi and his 'dry leaf' free-kicks, the amazing dribbles of Garrincha and the countless innovations of Pele.

So the Brazilian game has been having a long, hard look at itself in the past week as a result of the violent reaction to yet another local creation - Kerlon's so-called 'seal dribble'.

Nineteen-year-old Kerlon has developed an ability to flick the ball into the air and then run while balancing it on his forehead - a bit like a circus seal.

He first revealed the move some two-and-a-half-years ago in the South American Under-17 Championship.

He has had an injury-hit time since then, but is now starting to make the breakthrough in senior football as a second-half substitute for Cruzeiro of Belo Horizonte, currently second in the Brazilian league table.

Just over a week ago he unleashed the seal dribble in the big local derby against Atletico.

Opposing defender Coelho barged him to the ground, while other Atletico players screamed at him in anger.

Many people in the Brazilian game - including, it seems, national team coach Dunga, seem to think they were justified in their reaction.

How can this possibly be explained in the land traditionally viewed as the spiritual home of the beautiful game?

The answer touches on one of football's great truths; the game is indeed a universal language, but one which is spoken with different accents.

Different cultures find different things objectionable.

British players are liable to be angered by diving or by attempts to get an opponent sent off.

These practices are more widely accepted in Brazil as part of the game.

But if you want to start a war on a Brazilian pitch, a touch of ball juggling in the closing stages of a game your team is winning will quickly light the touch paper.

In a very hierarchical society, the player who comes up with a new trick is a pawn who has turned the tables and become a king

This will be seen as unpardonable provocation - and that is an explosive quantity on a Brazilian football field.

The noted Brazilian anthropologist Roberto da Matta has written that unlike European football, the game in his country "is a source of individual expression much more than an instrument of collectivisation".

He continued that it was a battle of "individual wills who seek to escape from the cycle of defeat and poverty".

In a very hierarchical society, the player who comes up with a new trick is a pawn who has turned the tables and become a king.

It perhaps helps explain why Brazilian football has come up with so many moments of individual genius - and also why those on the receiving end of the move feel especially humiliated.

Their personal defeat is being publicly rubbed into their nose.

Kerlon's problem is that his seal dribble is being viewed as a provocation.

Even if he unleashes it - as he usually does - on the way towards goal, with the objective of rounding the defence and getting in a shot - the defender feels that the whole thing has been done with the sole aim of making him look foolish.

It is for this reason that many in the game are of the view that he should never try the move when his team are winning.

But there are others, especially in the media, who are arguing that while the sport continues to come up with such moments of individual flair, the game of football is winning.

YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Got a question about South American football for Tim Vickery? Email him at vickerycolumn@hotmail.com

In England, we seem to have a conveyor belt of what are colloquially referred to as "box-to-box-midfielders" and I can't think of any Brazilians who currently fit that type. Are there any?

Aidan, Bristol

Lucas, now of Liverpool, is their big hope in this area. Had he not been injured earlier this year I suspect that he might have gone to the Copa America.

He did come off the bench when Brazil played Algeria in August, but now of course his international chances are being hit by his lack of first team action.

The former Sao Paulo duo, Mineiro and Josue, now both in Germany are in the national squad.

They have box-to-box lung power, but Lucas, with his passing and powerful shooting, has much more to offer.

In recent times Brazilian football has tended to separate the midfield quartet into two primarily defensive and two mainly attacking players, though there are signs of more variety coming through.

Yesterday I saw young Cruzeiro central midfielder Ramires burst forward to score a superbly taken goal against Vasco da Gama.

I've noticed that River Plate midfielder Fernando Belluschi has been scoring some incredible goals lately, most notably his hat-trick against Velez Sarsfield. How good do you think he is?

Liam, Leicestershire

Now we have an exact example of the kind of box-to-box midfielder that Aidan was asking about.

His coach Daniel Passarella rates him as a $40m player. He's very dynamic, excellent at timing his forward runs and he packs a fearsome shot.

He, perhaps, lacks some subtlety, which I think was partly responsible for the patchy time he's had since becoming the kingpin over the River Plate midfield - maybe his style is more suited to the counter-attack than to plotting his way through packed defences.

At 24 he's approaching a key year, because I'll be very surprised if he's still in Argentina in 12 months' time.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I’m a Canadian living in Brazil’s neighbor Uruguay for the past decade. I was heavily involved in youth soccer through the Danubio Futbol Club that has produced dozens of world class players over the years, including about a third of the U-20 team that flamed out disastrously in the 2007 World Cup after a strong peformance in the South Am qualifying.

I’ve seen Kerlon in person and a couple of times when he performed the seal against Uruguay’s U-17 team in competition. The “celeste” players were prewarned about Kerlon’s special skills and instructed to play him tight to the body and brush him until he lost the ball. It generally worked with minor fouls often called, but not the flagrant body checks or malicious kicks to the chest like a couple of other teams in the videos we’ve all seen by now.

I agree wholeheartedly with Tim Vickery. The rage over Kerlon’s move is cultural and not fully understandable under the honor codes of other regions. There is a fine line between hot-dogging for entertainment, using advanced ball-handling skills to play better, or blatant provocation. Personally I don't think Kerlon is trying to provoke anyone, but he already carries a cocky smirk on his face when he plays which is bound to be misinterpreted just as Ronaldinho's or Ronaldo's were back when they were upcoming. He'll pay his dues and then we'll see. That's how it works in any country.

Take hockey as an example. Say the Penguins are up 6-0 over the Ducks. With 3 minutes to play, Crosby, Malkin and Stahl start circling the rink with the puck, alternating passes to spring one or the other on a breakaway . . . but instead of shooting, the player fires the puck back to a teammate at center and then starts the same process all over again. Tell me that some Duck wouldn’t run at them. Is smudging their talent in the faces of an already defeated opponent really the best time to practice “new passing skills?” I think not.

Actually, in most cases that I’ve seen, Kerlon performed his magic in the heat of tight games still on the line. In many instances, his attempts were clearly to advance the ball or create a scoring attempt. I think he has a tremendous future if he stays healthy . . . not guaranteed with his current cockiness. Remember, it’s cultural. Defenders will run him to test his mettle, just as defenders will slash your legs out if you tunnel them a couple of times.

Replies to some other comments:

“Sounds like sour grapes by washed up hacks that couldn't cut it in Europe...the only great players in that league are under 22 and have yet to go to Europe, the rest are washed up or were never good enough.”

- By now we should all know that this is ridiculous. On any given year, over a half dozen Brazilian teams could compete favorably in ANY European league. Latin American success in international club team tournaments proves this every year. And that’s even after allowing South America’s best talent to stay with their European clubs for the international club games.

“How hitting the ball of your own head a few times could be dangerous I can't fathom”

- It’s not the action, it’s the retaliation that’s dangerous, although one could also argue that the player doing the seal must take his eye off the flow of the play and could conceivably “run into danger.” Nobody likes to be shown up by slick moves that arouse the crowd . . . even if they are totally legal. Every defender wants to perform his job of stopping the attacker at whatever cost, even a red card if they indeed are the last line of attack. In the heat of a game, yes, that can get ugly.

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