The quiet ambition of a soccer enthusiast

by Philippe Germain, Montréal, Quebec

For Marc Dos Santos, head coach of the Montreal Impact, his work is 10% technical instruction and 90% people management. “Communication is key,” says the man at the helm of a soccer team with players from 11 different countries who speak 7 different languages.

The 34-year-old Portuguese-Canadian has lived on three continents and speaks four languages. He learned French first, and then English in elementary school in Brossard, on the South Shore of Montréal. Portuguese came next—his parent’s language—and later Spanish, with the arrival of a Spanish sister-in-law.

When Marc was 11, the Dos Santos family left Quebec after his father accepted a job in Portugal. “I had no choice but to work hard to learn a third language so I could finish school,” he explains.

Like many Portuguese teenagers, he played soccer, but turned to coaching due to a lack of opportunities. His ability to speak multiple languages has opened doors because there are so many foreign players constantly moving between teams and leagues.

African dream

After 10 years in Portugal, Marc began a new chapter of his life when his father decided to move to Mozambique. Ready for a new challenge, the 21-year-old Marc decided to go with his father to Africa. Since Portuguese is the official language of this former colony in southwest Africa, Marc had no trouble communicating with the hundreds of young people he met in a refugee camp while working for a missionary organization.

His program, which used sports to help youth develop, was so successful that the Mozambique football federation, the international organization Right To Play and the multinational corporation Coca-Cola bought the idea. Marc was living a dream. “They were the most amazing years of my life!” he recalls.

Soon Marc, who was by then in his mid-twenties, started to feel the weight of Africa’s social reality. Plus, his brothers had returned to Canada and his father was starting a new life in Africa. So Marc Dos Santos headed back to Canada.

“I have learned in life that you can’t succeed without sacrifice. I got very attached to Africa, but I had a clear plan and decided to return to Montréal,” he says.

Polyglot wanted

With four languages under his belt as well as a wealth of coaching experience rarely seen in Quebec, Marc got a job with the Bourassa regional soccer association before becoming head coach of the Impact’s farm team in Trois-Rivières. A few months later, he succeeded John Limniatis to become the eighth head coach in Impact history.

“I have a forward who just arrived from Panama and a midfielder just in from Portugal, plus all the Montréal-born players,” says Marc. “I have to speak English during practice so everyone is on the same wavelength.”

Having a multilingual head coach allows the Impact to court unilingual foreign players. “Since I can communicate with these guys in their language, it also helps them integrate into the team,” says Marc. “I would also like to learn Italian as soon as I have the time.”

French: Our secret weapon

“Obviously, the coach of a professional sports team in Montréal has to speak both English and French. It’s a matter of respect for the fans and the media that we talk to every day,” declares Marc.

French itself is a secret weapon for the Impact’s top man. “Sometimes we play against teams that have only English-speaking or Spanish-speaking American players. So I give my instructions in French, knowing that the other team won’t understand,” he continues.

Marc Dos Santos hopes to lead the Impact to more championships, but his dream is to coach a team in Europe some day, or even Africa. “I know that speaking four languages opens doors for me, and since our sport is played around the world, the possibilities are endless,” he concludes.

Published on Tuesday, July 06, 2010

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