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The Silva Way of Finding Gold
Former Chili International Luis Silva
For a man who enjoyed a starring role in the Battle of Santiago, Luis Silva is remarkably unimpressed by football’s pre-occupation with size. Or, to be more precise, English football’s. “Teams come to me and say ‘find us a big, strong player’. “I say to them ‘what do you want them for, to play the game or for wrestling”? “Look at greats, like Maradona, Juninho or Ortega. They’re tiny but they’re still great players.” The former Chile international, who in 1962 was slugging it out with Italy in one of the most infamous chapters of World Cup history, now spends his time searching for the next irresistible talent on the streets of Sheffield. And after watching England succumb to two flashes of South American magic he believes more than ever that his own unique brand of coaching, honed in the back alleys and tenements of his homeland, is best placed to offer those youngsters blessed with extra-special gifts a path out of obscurity and into the limelight.
Silva – who, after joining the Football Unites Racism Divides project, spends much of his time working with the region’s ethnic minorities – isn’t one for rules and regulations.

“For a short while my head grew so far outwards my own team mates weren’t that keen on playing with me,” he said.

He was forced to issue a public apology to his manager after one bust-up too many, but Silva is still a firm believer rules and regulations only stifle the beautiful game.

Music cassettes line the mantelpiece of his Mosborough home and visitors who explored the eclectic collection would surely discover a copy of that old Frank Sinatra number, “My Way”.

“I tell kids to use their imagination, to express themselves. They should envisage they’re greats like Pele or Puskas and try and emulate them on the pitch,” he said.

“There’s too much concentration on regimented methods like playing in small squares. Too much ‘do this, do that’ and having to call your manager ‘Mr’.

“I always say they should call me Luis or coach. I tell them ‘you can choose one or the other but anything else and I’m going to send you off,” Silva laughs.

Unsurprisingly for someone who worked as a miner after arriving in this country 28 years ago, the likeable maverick also believes life experiences enhance performance on the pitch.

“Where I’m from, you’re not regarded as a world-class player until you’ve proven yourself abroad in another culture,” he explains.

“David Beckham is tremendous and has enjoyed great success here but he’s not done it anywhere else. That’s not taking anything away from him but to do well in another way of life proves just how good you are.

“Look at Ian Rush. He didn’t do anything at Juventus and after 12 months he was back at home. Gary Lineker and Mark Hughes went to Barcelona. Zinedine Zindane has been at the top in France, Italy and now Spain.

“That is when someone can truly be regarded not as great, but as a world great."

Little wonder Silva admires the impact Sven Goran Eriksson has made since taking over the England helm following spells in Portugal, Italy and his native Sweden.

“There is a lot to see out there,” he says, making a grand sweeping gesture with his hands.

“Places like Costa Rica, Bolivia, Paraguay and Ecuador are really changing the way they play and coaches should discover how they are doing it.

“I think it would be good if young players from here were allowed to go abroad on loan when they are 17 or 18.

“Also coaches. Why not send 20 of the best coaches from England to these countries, pay for them to investigate, and then let them come back with all that knowledge. I think that would help everybody. Closer to home, Turkey are making similar strides.”

Not that Silva is espousing losing identity. He uses the sociological history of clubs in South America to illustrate his point.

“In Chile Colo Colo is the team of the working class while University is the team of the rich because only rich people can afford to go there,” he reveals.

“In Argentina it is the same; Boca Juniors are for the poor and River Plate those with money.

“Unfortunately sometimes teams stand for nothing, but when they do players sweat blood for the badge because they know who they are playing for.

“They know what it means. Players should never lose sight of who they are and where they have come from.”

In Silva, they have the perfect role model.

(Reproduced by kind permission from the Sheffield Star)
James Shield The Sheffield Star Newspaper 25 June 2002


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