Concrete Football (2016) - Ballon sur bitume

Style and skill in ‘Concrete Football’ (2016)

After the USMNT debacle of failing to qualify for WC 2018, Americans are arguing how to create the best players in the world. Polemists should watch Ballon sur Bitume. Directors Jesse Adang and Syrine Boulanouar show how, in France, some of the most skilled players are rising from small playing fields in the hood.

After amassing over 800k views on youtube, their film was picked up by Netflix and retitled as Concrete Football.

Street football

In France, “Street foot” refers to le street football, organized as a small-sided game of 5v5 or less on a small, usually synthetic turf or asphalt court. Depending on the rules, it can be very similar to futsal. In the suburbs, or les banlieues, kids have grown up playing on these courts, and communities have formed around the teams that represent individual neighborhood districts (arrondissements).

However, “suburb” is not, as we have in the USA, a middle-class neighborhood away from a crowded downtown. In France, suburbs are the equivalent of American “hoods”, i.e., slums and inner-city mass housing. For their residents, sport or music feel like the only way out. Les banileues and street football are to marginalized French immigrants as basketball is to Blacks in low socioeconomic America.

Nike’s role

While the film is partially a promotional vehicle for Nike’s “Risk Everything” and the FootballX “Winner Stays” programs, the creators capture the culture of street football and its influence on fashion and music—and vice versa.

The directors grew up in this environment, and their love for their hoods and the people in them, shines through. I’m unfamiliar with rap music, but I’m sure the music and stars in this film are pretty good too.

Adang’s younger brother is friends with the brother of Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez. He and other French-based footballers trace their development to les banlieues and are proud of their heritage (although often they choose not to play for France). For both pro and recreational players, street football is a pure expression of freedom.

The most fascinating person in the film is Coach Ferhat Cicek. He is a Nike Ambassador and calls himself an educator. Ferhat runs a club in Paris that concentrates on teaching his principles of Respect, Discipline, and Rigor to youth ages 6 to 13. He tells his players it is okay to dream of becoming a professional footballer, but their chance of success is one in 5,000.

Thus, Coach Cicek emphasizes education and his three principles as key to rising above circumstances. Subsequent to this film, Ferhat got additional exposure in a Red Bulls TV piece, Streets Don’t Lie, that followed 3 young Parisians competing for a tryout with the New York Red Bulls club.

The freedom in street soccer

The soccer in Ballon sur Bitume shows the kind of quick feet and quick moves needed to make a mark in this game. Because the game is more about dazzling your opponent and the crowd, than it is about simply winning, it is very entertaining football. Mahrez says he doesn’t feel happy unless he gets at least one good dribble in a pro game. After watching this film, you understand why. I also now understand what European coaches mean when they say someone plays too much street.

Update Jun-27-2018: According to an article by Lindsay Krasnof in the Athletic, players born in France have a remarkable presence at WC 2018 in Russia:

Some 52 players across five teams at the tournament in Russia are French-born, and nearly a third of them come from Paris and its surrounding suburbs. What some call the greatest concentration of soccer talent in Europe has become a strong quadrennial presence. Since 2002, France has supplied more players and coaches for World Cup rosters—218 in total—than any other country, according to RunRepeat.

A worldwide trend

Street Soccer is a growing trend beyond Nike Winner Stays competitions. Small-sided tournaments, such as the World Street Soccer championship, are being organized. Worldwide, street soccer is utilized for the Homeless World Cup.

In the USA, street soccer is becoming a tool for social change. The San Francisco branch of StreetSoccerUSA runs local programs and an annual tournament to raise funds for its anti-homeless programs. The US Soccer Foundation helps to fund small pitches in disadvantaged areas. The most recent is a 50-field project being implemented in New York by the Foundation, the city, MLS club NYCFC, and other contributors. Could this lead to the USA winning the World Cup? We’ll know in 10-15 years.

8 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 8