One Ques­tion

When Mesut Özil quit the Ger­man foot­ball team in July because of “racism and dis­re­spect”, he told the world about his de­ci­sion in the lan­guage of the global game: English.

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How im­por­tant is English in global foot­ball?

Af­ter the ex­cite­ment of the World Cup in Rus­sia, foot­ball is now turn­ing its at­ten­tion back to do­mes­tic com­pe­ti­tions. A pre-sea­son goal of many pro­fes­sion­als was prob­a­bly to brush up on their English. Take Ar­se­nal’s new head coach, Unai Emery. The Spa­niard joined the Lon­don club in May and his lim­ited English skills were put to the test im­me­di­ately — his first job was to in­tro­duce him­self in English at a press con­fer­ence.

But it’s not just in the UK that foot­ball pro­fes­sion­als re­quire good English. The “beau­ti­ful game”, as Brazil­ian leg­end Pelé fa­mously called it, is truly in­ter­na­tional. As­so­ci­a­tion foot­ball is the world’s most pop­u­lar ball game, and del­e­gates from 53 coun­tries at­tended the Soc­cerex con­fer­ence in China in April. Just like in any other global in­dus­try, English is the lin­gua franca.

All of Europe’s top teams of­fer plenty of English-lan­guage con­tent through their so­cial me­dia chan­nels. Clubs that build global brands can make bet­ter spon­sor­ship deals and sell more merchandise and tick­ets, and fans around the world are hun­gry for news and in­for­ma­tion.

Good English will be very use­ful for young play­ers if they suc­ceed pro­fes­sion­ally. Whether mov­ing from Croa­tia to France or from Brazil to Ja­pan, foot­ballers will prob­a­bly have to rely on their English when they first play in a for­eign league.

So play­ers, coaches and ex­ec­u­tives at am­bi­tious clubs all over the world have a strong in­cen­tive to learn English. And let’s not for­get the match of­fi­cials — the ref­er­ees and their as­sis­tants. They need English for co­or­di­nat­ing with their in­ter­na­tional col­leagues and trav­el­ling to matches abroad. On the other hand, they may some­times wish that they didn’t un­der­stand many of the things play­ers say to them.

The beau­ti­ful game is truly in­ter­na­tional

TOM CHAL­LENGER is the au­thor of Foot­ball English: Soc­cer Vo­cab­u­laryfor Learn­ers of English. He teaches English in Vi­enna, where he lives with his fam­ily.In­ter­view: Eamonn Fitzger­ald

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