Super coach still getting a kick out of soccer


By Judith Stiles

For most amateur athletes who love playing competitive team sports, the thought of turning 60 years old is a gloomy proposition. What do you have to look forward to? A slow round of golf with the senior duffers? A game of tennis with wobbly-kneed folks? A rousing match of shuffleboard?

Coach Manny d’Almeida happily passed the big 6-0 a few years ago and now he plays, coaches and referees soccer more than ever. At 60 he comfortably retired from being a systems analyst at Citibank to become the goodwill ambassador of soccer in Lower Manhattan.

Anybody who plays below 50th St. knows him as the evenhanded, good-natured referee who controls a very tight game. The parents of small children enjoy the way he talks to the players after the match as he generously gives tips on how to improve. While he is a big hit with the beginners, he is also the referee of choice for teenage boys who play a high-testosterone game that can often end in fisticuffs (never with Manny).

Many moons ago Manny learned to play soccer with the Marist Missionary Brothers from Germany and with Portuguese players who allowed the “speedy young guy” to play with them. He later refined his game by playing with South Americans, especially Brazilians. “I prefer the Brazilian style simply because that type of soccer looks beautiful even in defeat. I love the cute, cheeky little touches, the little fakes and all the nifty little things not associated with power and speed,” says d’Almeida as he jumps up and demonstrates a few quick fakes.

Last August when the entire city was wilting in the heat, you could find Manny playing a fierce game of soccer in Chinatown, blowing away the competition on his U-30 (under 30-years-old) team. The young men from Britain and Ireland in the Urban Soccer League welcomed Manny onto their team as he was a solid center-midfielder with great ball control and crisp passes. Even when the lads ran sprints after the game, Manny kept up with the best of them. What was his secret? A bottle of water and a love of the game.

“For children, the game should be about the joy of playing,” says Coach d’Almeida, who emphasizes this with parents who seek him out for soccer talk. With three grown children of his own, he has a good perspective on where we are going with the explosion of organized youth sports and hyper-involved parents.

“The expectations may be too high for many youngsters,” he says. “There are positions on the field for every type of player regardless of height, weight or size. For the slow, passive and diminutive, they may master the skills of dribbling and shielding the ball. With a little imagination, they may develop to be great playmakers. As in all phases of life, not all march to the same beat. Some are early bloomers and some are late,” explains d’Almeida.

Parents, remember you are the big mirror that your child holds up to him- or herself to find out, “How am I doing? Am I O.K.?” Often one will see a father corner his child after a game with a quick comment like, “Great game!” as he then proceeds to hammer the kid with criticism and negativity.

Some parents are no doubt trying to vicariously live out their own unfulfilled sports dreams. But parents — who would be advised to leave coaching to the coach — could learn a thing from d’Almeida, who puts youth soccer in the proper perspective.

Says Coach d’Almeida, “Not everyone will reach the professional level, nor should they need to. This is not necessary in order to play and enjoy this beautiful game of soccer.”

Where can you find Coach d’Almeida these days? It’s tough to catch up with him. When he is not volunteering with the Loisada league teams, he is coaching adults at Van Cortlandt Park, maybe the Urban Soccer League kids in Chinatown or he is hopping on his bike to ref games near Stuyvesant High School. You might find him playing in the parent-coach games at Pier 40 on Sunday nights, where he gives a little hope to the huffers and puffers who are middle-aged. With Manny in the game, the U-50s realize they don’t have to hang up their soccer cleats just yet!

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