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.
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