Languages in Football

By Matt Vicker

I like football, and I like language. I have combined my interest of the two for this post.

In modern football, players are moving from country to country, more and more frequently. The language barrier can put some players off (especially if they have no interest in learning the new language) but generally money speaks and they will make the move. Languages can take years to perfect. Carlos Tevez played for West Ham United, Manchester United and Manchester City from 2006-13 and he really struggled to learn English. It was so bad that he couldn’t read driving fine notices he was sent and got into a lot of trouble for not paying them and cited his inability to speak English as the reason.

It can be a two-sided coin. Players who speak English as a first language can go to foreign countries to play. Last summer, Welsh attacker Gareth Bale left Tottenham Hotspur in order to play in Spain for Real Madrid, despite not having much spanish-speaking ability. However, in only a couple of months when this article for Talksport; was written, he has been quoted as saying:

“Es increible estar aqui. Es un sueno hecho realidad. Hala  Madrid!” (“It’s incredible to be here. It’s a dream made reality. Go  Madrid!”). So is he now fluent, and calling the shots on the training  ground?

“I’ve only been here two months, not two years,” he laughs. “It’s coming  along slowly but surely, but I have to keep putting in the hard hours in the  classroom and I’ll hopefully be speaking it in no time. At the moment, it’s just  English for me.”

Three months on since then, I am sure he has improved more. Could it just be because Spanish is an easier language? Or is it that on personal level, Bale has the drive to settle in and learn the language?

Football has been described as being a ‘universal language’ for footballers and has led to some metaphors such as ‘do the talking on the pitch’. If you have a good footballing mind, do you need to speak the same language as your teammates? In this article from 2008 in the Daily Mail it talks about how Chelsea hired Luiz Felipe Scolari despite his lack of English because ‘football is the universal language’. It is one thing to have one player in the squad who can’t grasp the language, but the manager?? Current Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino is improving on his English however he still conducts his interviews for Match of the Day with a translator. Supposedly he saves his English for the training ground but surely using the language you use to communicate with your team when talking to the media, or just using it in general, will improve the proficiency?

In my opinion, I would want to know the language a bit before being thrown in at the deep end. With moving to a new country, it can be quite isolating and having a basic knowledge of the language can help you to settle in and make a new life. For any job, communication is going to be important, but if you have the ‘universal language’ of football, do you need to speak a language that is mutual? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!


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