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Soccer Players Speaking Foreign Languages

Picking Up Foreign Tongues

Soccer (Football) is the universal language, and often doesn’t require a verbal language. It’s a game that’s intuitive and understood if you’re a professional footballer. If there’s a language it’s of the body. Based on where a player leans or stands or runs. But I was curious to know how players communicate on the pitch, when they have to? Especially, with clubs like Chelsea or Arsenal, where their teams are like the United Nations, is English the default code? 

Take Cristiano Ronaldo, as you can see from this video, his English wasn't up to the speed of his foot work, and needed the assistance of Gary Neville in this interview.

The top list so far:

  • Gelson Fernandes of Manchester City (7)
  • Clarence Seedorf of AC Milan (5-6)
  • Philippe Senderos of Arsenal (6)
  • Cesc Fabregas of Arsenal (4)
  • Ruud van Nistelrooy of Real Madrid  (4)

Is there a relationship between a player’s faculty to pick up a new language and their playing ability? Henry speaks at least French and English, Ronaldo I’m sure Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. Certainly a bit easier for the Latin based language born players. Figo must speak Spanish, English, Portuguese and Italian. I’m always a bit jealous of Europeans; due to the proximity of other countries they speak at least two or three other languages. It’s fun and respectful to know a few words from someone’s native tongue.

Of his time in London, Jose Antonio Reyes, said while playing for Arsenal, the young man from Seville couldn’t adjust to everything being closed at 5 and no places to walk around to or stroll. The English life, cups of tea and bangers and mash so much different than the Spanish taps and late night cafes. He became bored. Oh, the tough life of a professional soccer player.

Michael Essien had a diffrent take on London, loving the convergence of languages and music:

“London is the best city in the world,” the 25-year-old claimed. “It’s a sea port where hundreds of languages are spoken and where football is played. For us English-speaking Africans who love music it is even more fascinating.”

But, I can understand where Reyes is coming from, moving from your home at such a young age, needing to adjust to a new culture and learn a new language. However, at the same time, this seemingly would be the great thing about professional football, traveling and meeting and visiting new places. Certainly with the money they make they can import their whole family and way of life.

How do soccer players adjust to living in a new country? I’ve heard that Seedorf, the Dutch star and AC Milan stalwart, speaks five or six languages. I’ve heard that Beckham and Owen had trouble picking up Spanish, whereas, Jonathon Woodgate, the English defender dove right in—hablando Espanol rapidamente.

Who speaks the most foreign languages? David Beckham? Just playing. I think Cesc Fabregas might be the winner, the product of Barcelona’s youth system and Arsenal midfielder general.

I’ve heard he speaks English, Spanish, Catalan, and French. Actually, there are a few others that I'm sure have this youngster beat. Although by the time Cesc finishes his career he'll have landed perhaps in Italy or another country and add to his total. Ruud van Nistelrooy the former Manchester United star and now Real Madrid forward speaks four languages fluently. This according to Real Madrid's web site, "Ruud speaks 4 languages –his native Dutch, English, German, and French– but you can be sure that he will make it five soon enough, adding Spanish to this impressive list."

Then there's Swiss footballer Philippe Senderos (Arsenal), who speaks 6 languages (English, French, Spanish, German, Italian and Portuguese). And, I've heard, he's currently trying to learn either Greek or Russian. Is there a player who can top that?

There's another Swiss player on the list, and that's Gelson Fernandes, he plays for Manchester City and was born in Cape Verde islands.  He used to play for FC Sion in Switerland.  He keeps adding to his total of languages and is now up to 7. He's just 21 years old.

This US National team coach, or interim coach I should say, Bob Bradley, speaks fluent Spanish, and English of course. The US Federation I believe making it a requirement, or a prerequisite, a rule I’m sure they’ll break if the right coach comes along. The former England national team coach, Sven Goran Erikson, I hear speaks at least four or five languages. Then there are coaches like Bora or Guus Hiddink, who must know a tribe of languages or bits and pieces due to their stints as national team coaches.

Never mind that Bora proudly knows no Mandarin and can barely say the names of his athletes properly. In turn, neither the public nor his players can pronounce his name because the “r”-sound doesn’t really exist in Chinese. That’s why, despite being regaled and reviled as “Bora” by fair-weather fans of the four other nations he’s coached in World Cup competitions, he’s known here instead as “Milu.”

This is the man who, for a reported $700,000 a year, delivered on his promise to bring the Chinese team to the World Cup finals for its first time. That bit of history was assured in resounding fashion in a 1-0 triumph over Oman on Oct. 7, prompting mass jubilation and dancing in public squares across the most populous land on the planet.

“I’m not happy about that, but what am I going to do, it is such a difficult language,” said Milutinovic, who speaks Spanish, Serbian, French, English, German and Portuguese “in that order.” “This is one more reason to be happy. Without speaking the language, the team plays well and understands me.”

Said US Soccer Federation Vice President Sunil Gulati: “Bora's fond of saying, ‘I don’t have to speak the language, I speak the language of football.’ He’s probably right.”

Sources: Steve Friess and Yahoo Answers


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