Chad Ochocinco’s soccer dreams are just that

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.

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9 comments on “Chad Ochocinco’s soccer dreams are just that
  1. Maybe a bit harsh. Chad will most likely have the troubles in tight-space possession that come from time away from the game. But his foundation should be such that it’s a matter of time before he’s able to improvise & express himself as well as impose his athleticism on the game. He has also instantiated unfamiliar skills into his training regimen to keep his focus and adaptivity levels high for some time now.

  2. Interesting. During this past WC when there was regular radio coverage, in the US, of WC games, the local NYC sports talk radio guys actually spoke about soccer in a non-disparaging way. One theme was that the US will only be able to compete at the highest level when athletes like Ochocinco and Terrell Owens and Michael Vick etc are playing soccer. Imagine Ochocinco as your Peter Crouch-like target man or Gooch-like defender. Michael Vick as your attacking midfielder. Will it happen? As an example, look at how the wide receiver position has changed in past several years. The big and fast receivers now dominate.

  3. Well written Shourin. The leap to soccer, even for the most gifted athlete, is daunting if not impossible.

  4. Patrick: Thanks. The beauty of soccer is that the most supremely gifted players do not have to have to be physically intimidating or of a particular height requirement. Which is not the case in the NFL or NBA. The only exception I can think of is Jerry Rice.

  5. Kev: I think there is this self selection aspect at work in the bigger soccer playing countries too – usually it is rugby that gets the jocks. But the reasons the US is unable to compete at the highest levels is not because the game is being bypassed by the likes of Vick, Owens, or Ochocinco. Rather it is the level and intensity of exposure. Promising soccer players don’t have the sort of academies or the intense training regimens that one dedicates the rest of their lives to as in Europe or S. America. Being a part of a weaker regional conference like the CONCACAF which assures WC participation without really breaking into a sweat does not help either.

  6. Spitz, not taking away the athleticism of Ochocinco at all – he’s all of that. But soccer has different visuo spatial skills required. It is also relatively unscripted compared to the NFL which make picking up its nuances more difficult. The soccer coach has relatively little to do while football is a beehive of intense sideline activity. It will be a huge change after 10 years.

  7. okay, best three players today are all 5ft7in and Snejider who we can say also deserved the award in a way, was 5f7i
    i always say
    skills gives you 1point in soccer
    physical ability adds a 0 (total is 10)
    mental skills adds a 0 (total is 100)
    professionalism adds a 0 (total is 1000)
    if skills gones, you end up with zeros only
    and little bit of my glossary
    physical ability: is a combination of physical strength, speed and flexibility

  8. You’re right Roy. My idea was that he’d be able to use his athleticism in isolated scenarios. But a football mind which comes from experience and honed spacial creativity is even at a premium at the highest levels of the game. I didn’t mean for it to sound like he’d make the team or anything. But I’m not sold on the idea that he’s unable to grasp soccer principles solely because he’s hardwired to think like an American Football player. I’m of the opinion that the jury’s still out on his footballing IQ and his limitations are the situational awareness and technique that come from years of development experience from an early age.

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