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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 11:48 a.m., Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Soccer: 'Seal dribble' stirs debate in Brazil

Associated Press

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Brazilian soccer fans go crazy when Kerlon bounces the ball off his head to run past defenders. The move is called a "seal dribble" because the 19-year-old midfielder is bobbing the ball like, well, a seal.

Not everyone is thrilled by it, however, and in this soccer-mad country Kerlon's antics are stirring quite a debate.

Kerlon confounds and irritates opponents as he darts by them. With the ball out of reach, they find it hard to stop him without fouling him.

I'll never stop doing the play," Kerlon said. "They'll need to create a new law if they want me to stop."

Some players say the move is disrespectful because it breaks soccer's unwritten code. They contend Kerlon uses the move to show off, not to score goals.

"It is a provocation. He may have to be sidelined for several years if he gets kicked in the face," said Emerson Leao, the former Brazil goalkeeper and current Atletico Mineiro coach. "I hope that never happens."

Kerlon's latest balancing act caused a nationally televised brawl Sunday after Cruzeiro beat rival Atletico Mineiro 4-3 in the Brazilian league.

Shortly after Cruzeiro took the lead for good, Kerlon decided to try the move. He bounced the ball on his head three times before Atletico defender Coelho leveled him with a hard tackle.

Atletico players charged Kerlon, screaming at him and accusing him of provoking them with the dribble. Kerlon's teammates came to his rescue, but the scuffle lasted several minutes. Coelho was ejected because of the foul.

"What Kerlon did was not right," Atletico striker Marinho said. "We know he is a skillful player, but I think it would be wrong even if he was playing for us."

Kerlon, whose full name is Kerlon Moura Souza, is undeterred by the critics.

"We need to decide what we want in soccer," he said. "Is it the beautiful play or the violent play? Brazilian soccer has always been about skillful players, not violent players."

Kerlon has often used the seal dribble in the years since he turned professional. In 2005, he was voted the best player at the under-17 South American championship. He has played sparingly as a starter for Cruzeiro because of serious injuries.

"I forgive (Coelho) for what he did to me," Kerlon said. "But I don't forgive him for what he did to soccer."

Most of Brazil's soccer analysts have sided with Kerlon.

"He has the right to keep using the seal dribble anytime he wants," said Paulo Vinicius Coelho, an analyst with the Lance sports daily.

"He only does it because he is able to," GloboEsporte columnist Ledio Carmona said. "Those who are not can only applaud."

Coelho, the Atletico defender, could be suspended for more than a year because of the foul on Kerlon, according to Brazil's top sports tribunal regulations.

"(Kerlon) acted within the law. He did nothing wrong," Paulo Schmitt, the sports tribunal attorney-general, told the Agencia Estado news service. "Coelho is the one who went too far."

Coelho denies he committed the foul because he was upset with the move.

"It was a hard foul, but I was only trying to keep him from advancing," he said. "I wasn't trying to hurt him."

Fluminense defender Luiz Alberto said Wednesday that Coelho did the right thing.

"I know I may be punished for what I'm going to say, but I would take Kerlon out if I was in Coelho's position," Luiz Alberto said. "That (dribble) disrespects the players who are on the other side."

Although Kerlon's dribble is legal, referees can punish players if they feel there is an intention to provoke opponents or if it's not considered fair game.

A player for Brazil's Sport club received a yellow card in 2002 after he did the "step over" dribble, stopping in front of a defender and moving his feet over the ball several times before trying to get past him. The referee said he was trying to provoke players from the other team.

Cruzeiro, however, said it fully supports Kerlon and will do what it can to keep protect him.

"Kerlon is not going to be intimidated with threats on or off the field," club director Valdir Barbosa said. "He will be encouraged to use the dribble whenever he feels it's necessary. He doesn't use it to fool around. He tries to score goals with it."