Last week, we saw Chile’s Alexis Sanchez named the Copa America Golden Ball winner as the top player while leading his country to another championship. Before the tournament began, we highlighted how many Copa players credited street football and small-sided games for their success. It should come as no surprise, then, that Sanchez asserts he learned the most growing up playing in the streets in neighborhood games.
With the Euro final between Portugal and France coming upon us, we may see street football’s influence once again take center stage. It’s nearly universally agreed upon that the top two players from the respective sides are Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba. While Ronaldo is having a strong showing for Portugal with three goals and three assists thus far, Pogba has been struggling with just one goal for France. What they both have in common, however, is that they each cite the small-sided game as being decidedly influential in their football careers.
As is common in Paris, Pogba grew up playing on the streets, where he and his friends would play 5v5 or futsal nearly every day. “We started out in the hood and we’d play between cars and stuff, it was never glamorous,” he shared in an interview with Hypebeast last month. Similarly, Ronaldo has stated that during his childhood, all he played was futsal, where the small playing area helped him develop his close control, dribbling, and touch.
Whole both teams have a strong bid to emerge as European champions, it is yet to be seen if Ronaldo or Pogba will be named the Euro Golden Ball winner as Alexis Sanchez was for Copa America. What we can all agree on is that street football has already made an indelible mark on some of the biggest stages in football.