To Brazilian Claudio Roberto Lopes, or “Toddy,” coming to Taiwan and being a soccer coach was not a difficult decision to make.
“My girlfriend wanted me to choose between her and soccer, and I said ‘I love soccer,’ and here I am,” he said, adding that he had never heard of a soccer team in Taiwan before he came.
Lopes arrived earlier this year with three other Brazilian coaches at the invitation of the Chinese Taipei Football Association (CTFA), which launched the project “Taiwan Football Dream” (台灣足球夢) that aims to enable the soccer team to qualify for the 2038 World Cup.
A crucial part of the project is to have Brazilian coaches train young soccer players in Taiwan.
For the moment, Lopes and two other coaches — Levi Villibor and Claudio Fernandes Ribeiro — are still here coaching players at high schools and universities. All three used to play in Brazil’s professional soccer league before becoming full-time coaches.
Joined by Villibor and Ribeiro, Lopes sat down with the Taipei Times earlier this month to share their views on the sport in Taiwan.
“Boys and girls, on average, are all good in their soccer skills,” he said. “And overall, girls here are more disciplined, focused and determined to win than boys.”
Lopes said training at the beginning was somewhat difficult because of the language barrier and players’ changing positions during games. But the three coaches said the players showed them great respect and quickly grasped their instructions.
The main problem, meanwhile, was a lack of a fighting spirit, Lopes said.
“They are not aggressive enough when they play,” Lopes said. “You win, or you lose, it’s OK, but you must fight like a warrior.”
That lack of fight, as Lopes said, may have a lot to do with Taiwanese culture.
For one, soccer is not a very popular sport here.
“Education is still a very important matter for many students here and they spend too much time studying,” Lopes said, adding that this leaves players with hardly enough time to do quality training.
Brazil built its reputation as a soccer country after winning five World Cups since 1958, Lopes said, and it is common to see small children play soccer on the streets. Since in Brazil education is generally a privilege for rich people, many children from poor families aspire to play in the professional soccer league because the high salaries mean they can support their families, he said.
Every school in Brazil makes sure that its soccer players are fully developed and continue to improve their skills — without compromising their education.
“Here, not every school has a soccer team,” he said.
Nonetheless, Lopes said it is possible to change culture and that this change must begin in schools.
“You need to have at least one soccer coach in every school,” he said.
Players also need more time for training. The more they practice, the more evolucao (Portuguese for “developed”) they get, he said.
Lopes said Taiwan “has no problem” in meeting the requirements for a professional soccer team, at least in terms of infrastructure.
Asked about how the corporate sector could be encouraged to support soccer, he said all it takes is for “the government and the companies to sit down and talk.”
In Brazil, the government gives tax breaks for firms that support soccer teams or sponsor games, he said.
Lopes said Taiwan’s situation with soccer was similar to Brazil’s with volleyball 16 years ago, when the volleyball team was simply no match to more experienced teams from China, the US or Australia.
However, with help from the government and corporations, volleyball is now the second most important sport in Brazil, he said. The women’s national volleyball team won the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics, while the men’s team won the silver. Both men’s and women’s teams are currently ranked No. 1 in the world by the International Volleyball Federation.
He said both South Korea and Japan faced the same problems with soccer years ago, but eventually the sport gained momentum in both countries because “somebody had a dream.”
“I have a dream [for soccer in Taiwan],” he said. “In the last game you played against South Korea, you were beaten 2-0. After more practice, more training, you can beat them with a score of 4-2.”
The three will stay in Taiwan for at least another year and all have expressed a willingness to renew their contracts. People in Taiwan are very friendly, they said.
Just as the interview was about to wrap up, Villibor and Ribeiro showed clips they had found on YouTube about the “Soccer Hoopla” in Brazil — fans dancing and singing to cheer their favorite teams, or crying in disbelief when their team loses.
“I hope, Taiwan, one day, I hope,” Vilibor said, pointing at the screen. “It’s possible if every player can fight like Taiwan’s taekwondo fighter” Su Li-wen (蘇麗文).
Taiwan is ranked 173nd by FIFA.
The CTFA intends to have a professional soccer league by 2018, with six professional teams. The number of professional soccer teams is expected to grow to 12 by 2028. By 2038, Taiwan wants to be one of the top 32 countries in the world competing for the World Cup.
Readers interested in contributing to the “Taiwan Football Dream” project can visit the Web site at taiwanfootballdream.ctfa.com.tw/.
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