Chad Ochocinco’s headline grabbing foray into soccer maybe motivated by the same feelings which led Deion Sanders and Michael Jordan’s crossover into baseball. For a sport constantly looking for a bubble (Beckham, World Cup) to inject it into the larger consciousness of the US mainstream it is a welcome novelty. Nothing more than that.
There are a few differences between the two sports.
Wide receivers are only as effective as their given route in the tightly scripted world of the NFL. It is all jotted down in a playbook and memorized by rote. There is a hierarchy which calls the plays, transmits, and executes them.
Sure they are perfectly capable of improvising in the end with their athleticism but unlike the discrete units of football (downs, yards to go, etc) soccer is a sport of continuous improvisation and motion. It does not matter who passes or receives the ball in that continuum. That is also the reason why movies on soccer are hard to film. Soccer is also compared to most sports, statistically impoverished.
Football in contrast is a made for TV/ film sport and littered with all sorts of statistics that become part of the playbook. There is a simplicity to soccer which is at odds with the overwhelming mental preparation and specialization that a game of football entails. But the difference in mindset is not the only one.
In bio-mechanical terms, the rest of the human body is far less precise than the hands.
Ochocinco would be an intimidating sight with his 6’3″ frame blistering his way through with the ball attached to his feet. He would be par excellence if that is all it took to play soccer.
Given Ochocinco’s length of time away from the game (10 years) it is simply another category of skill altogether if he can dead trap with his foot a ball kicked to him from 30 feet away. Or arch his trunk with the requisite number of degrees to chest trap. Or rotate his head ever so slightly to change the trajectory of the ball to effectively score a goal. In soccer, the effectors used to make contact with the ball and the number of successful outcomes associated with them vastly outnumber that of football. Even Rory Delap uses his hands to deadly use. And we all remember el mano de Dios!
What soccer does is make these less naturally precise parts of the body more precise. Try writing your name with a marker clutched between your toes. It can be done neatly after great practice and indeed there are individuals who do that out of necessity.
When we see Leo Messi dribbling the ball with such great skill, he’s using muscles in the legs not naturally predisposed to grading force accurately, certainly not the kind that can manipulate a coin into a vending machine. The hands (and face) are examples of overtrained mechanisms because we use them so often in daily interaction. The famous picture of the homonculus reflect the real estate grab of these anatomical parts on the brain. Soccer wants to reverse that and introduce a more egalitarian human morphogenesis. That may well be the reason for its popularity in the school age population.
Not a knock on the Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver who from all accounts has played the global game and loves it but he might have more success taking to golf.