FUTSAL ……. FOR FUTSAL’S SAKE
“FUTSAL CONFRONTS THE PLAYER WITH CONSTANT DECISION-MAKING. WHEN YOU RECEIVE THE BALL, YOU ARE FACED WITH DOZENS OF OPTIONS. YOUR BRAIN ACTS LIKE A COMPUTER: IT REALISES IT HAS BEEN FACED WITH THIS SITUATION BEFORE AND TRIES TO COME UP WITH THE RIGHT ANSWER – THE RIGHT PASS OR RIGHT SHOT. IN FUTSAL, YOU ARE FACED WITH MANY OF THESE SITUATIONS, AND THAT IS WHY YOU IMPROVE SO MUCH WHEN YOU PLAY.”
It may come as a surprise for many to whom these comments are attributable. Revealed later…..
It would be fair to assume that a highly successful Futsal Coach or Manager, steeped in Spanish, Brazilian or Argentinian futsal history was the author; in an effort to overcome the prejudices of a football fraternity in the main tentative in its willingness to embrace a sport which is credited with creating some of the Worlds finest exponents of the outdoor game in the last few years.
“IN FUTSAL, YOU SEE WHETHER A PLAYER IS REALLY TALENTED. IN NORMAL FOOTBALL YOU DON’T NECESSARILY IDENTIFY TALENT AS EASILY BECAUSE IT’S SO MUCH MORE PHYSICAL. BUT WITH FUTSAL, YOU NOTICE THE SMALL DETAILS IN QUALITY, CLASS AND TACTICAL UNDERSTANDING.”
It may take less of a stretch to identify the World-class football player – a World Cup and European Championship Winner – speaking so highly of a game which without doubt contributed to his development as a football player.
There are many quotes from some of the game of footballs greatest stars (many of whom belonged at some time to Real Madrid CF or Catalan giants FC Barcelona) which tip a hat to the influence of one of the Worlds fastest – and fastest growing – sports in their development.
One thing they all have in common, however, is that every comment, every perspective and every experience is based on the impact of playing the game throughout those important early development years. Recognising that the game itself is the mechanism for the development of the sublime skills and moments of vision which separate them from the lesser mortals of the game.
Futsal in the UK has a longer history than perhaps most would realise. The North West of England and Yorkshire have been home to futsal activity for 30 years, and in Scotland there has been an active Futsal League for more than 20 years. More than enough time, one would imagine, to see some of the results of the sport so eloquently described by those superstars bearing fruit in the UK football community.
Yet, it appears, there is still a long way to go until the UK produces a player through Futsal who goes on to become a Premier League player, or represents Scotland or England at football. The development of an international football player through the ranks of Futsal is not limited to those bastions of Futsal tradition either. The contribution of the sport to the development of Ronaldo (both!), Messi and Neymar is well-known and high profile; but a young man currently plying his trade in the Scottish Premiership with one of the most successful Club sides in Scottish football history is a more pertinent demonstration of the potential route to football success. That Tom Rogic made his International debut for Australias Futsal team some 2 years before achieving the same feat for the “Socceroos” should fill many young starlets with hope.
So there is sufficient evidence to propose that the sport of Futsal can play an important role in the development of young players – but understanding what that contribution looks and feels like seems to be where the game has hit something of an impasse in the UK.
Again, an unlikely source perhaps. Yet when Patrick Vieira, formerly part of the City Football Group project as Head Coach of New York City, and now Head Coach at Nice in Ligue 1, talks glowingly of “playing futsal” and the impact upon player development then perhaps the key point of the message becomes clearer.
That Vieira spent almost a decade at the heart of one of English Footballs most successful teams, under the Manager who masterminded an unbeaten League campaign playing some of the most attractive fast paced football, would suggest a man with a more than reasonable perspective from whence to make such a statement. That it was Arsene Wenger who made the comments in the opening statement would also suggest that the importance of “playing the game” is held in high regard as part of the modern footballers development.
Yet here in the UK we seem to be struggling to consolidate our traditional perspective of how football should be developed against what we are now seeing with the role of the sport of futsal.
Its fair to say that the English FA are some way down the road towards a structure which encourages and embraces Futsal as a sport in its own right – and acknowledging that it is the match situation which is the source of the player development which has proven so successful over the years across the globe – and Scotland, Wales and Ireland have embarked upon a similar journey but the commitment of the traditional football community seems at odds with the facts currently available.
Much of Englands success has been from a prolonged investment in the development of a successful National team and more recently an investment in Schools futsal. The huge impact on the development of the game from the work of Graeme Dell, Peter Sturgess and most recently Mike Skubala is epitomised by the inclusion of a full-size training venue at St Georges Park for the National Futsal squad. Scotland has a full size court at the National Performance Centre in Edinburgh and there are others hosting an adult National League around the country.
The most recent development from the FA would also suggest a further commitment to the sport itself; a 6-year plan under the very passionate and committed Futsal proponents mentioned previously.
But at the development level elsewhere, whether it be professional or amateur, the link between creating better football players through futsal seems still to be a source of indecision.
For many, simply undertaking football drills indoors – sometimes even with a futsal ball – seems to be as much compromise as is willing to be given. There are numerous advertisements for courses and activities professing to offer sessions based on “Futsal for Football”. And this is perhaps understandable given the reticence of the football fraternity to embrace the sport. Making it look like a familiar activity may be perceived to assist in breaking down the barriers.
The more recent “street soccer” proposition in some regions goes some way (probably unwittingly) to recognising the benefits of futsal activity; modern day street soccer is still supervised by coaches, and for the most part takes place in hard court sports halls – so is really “hall soccer” which is exactly what the rest of the world calls Futebol de Sala (football in a hall) or Futsal. But this does not develop either the understanding or participation of the sport of Futsal.
However, as Mike Skubala wrote in an article for The “I” news in September 2017;
“Futsal is a football development tool but also a game in its own right, and that’s what we’ve lacked – the understanding of it how it’s a game in its own right.”
He continues: “It’s about the twin-tracking of a pathway we are trying to identify. Where do players become futsal players and where do players become footballers? “There’s a cross-fertilisation of the technical skills but then at some point futsal will become a sport in its own right. “If you look at all the anecdotal evidence around players that have come through futsal – Messi, Ronaldo, Kaka – they will at some point have to pick their code.”
Skubalas crusade to enlighten a nation continued in the Guardian in the same month.
“Until we start doing futsal properly, we probably aren’t going to win a football World Cup like Spain and Brazil. These nations are all doing it on a massive scale, all their kids are doing it. And the constraints of the game are showing us that it gives us huge football returns later down the line.”
His commitment to the sport follows on from the work done with National team predecessor Sturgess who has written a well-received and highly respected book “Futsal: Training, Technique and Tactics”. (Peter Sturgess, Bloomsbury Publishing, 4 May 2017)
Both advocate the use of training sessions to develop the Futsal player, not the footballer. By developing the Futsal player, and preparing them to play Futsal, the very skills which we come to recognise from the sport in the game of football can be developed and honed.
Futsal creates an environment for the young player to hone ball control, passing, positioning, defensive and attacking components and finishing. That environment develops the player by limiting the amount of time available on the ball and importantly creating many, many more situations where the young player is faced with a problem to solve and a decision to make.
Training drills remove decision making (decisions made by the coach instead) and remove the pressure associated with making more good decisions than bad. In a professional football world where the best players make more good decisions than bad while in high pressure situations then the early introduction of this situation would seem to be appropriate to the young players development.
And this is where the football coach has the challenge when adapting to coach futsal. By undertaking drills, there is no doubt the basic techniques and controls will be enhanced. The educated Coach can give the player the tools to use when faced with many of the in-game choices – but it is unlikely they can cover every eventuality. By ensuring good basic skills, an environment is created where the decisions and the solutions become the key element in the success of the player and his team mates. But that environment is during the game, when players on opposition sides are presenting problems and covering the route to goal and team mates.
The biggest challenge, therefore, is facing up to the skills gap in the coaching workforce. This is in no way a criticism – futsal is a different sport and requires a different skill set. Many people, given the opportunity and, more importantly, the desire to admit a shortfall and commit to learning, could become hugely competent and successful. This is where Futsal perhaps suffers in the UK. This country produces some excellent football coaches and the familiarity of futsal to football gives many the confidence to try to coach the game in a similar format to that sport they are most comfortable with.
This is to do a huge disservice to Futsal. Futsal is not a series of football drills done indoor to escape the winter weather. The youngest players should be supported with a coaching structure which is committed, passionate and knowledgeable about the game of futsal. There should be a commitment to developing the players to reach the highest possible level to which they aspire.
To again refer to Skubalas “I”news article;
“For me it’s about getting futsal woven into our fabric properly, so it is coached and delivered properly by a workforce that knows what it is like at all levels.
“Then at some point giving players the choice whether to go as a ‘T20 player’ or a ‘test player’.
“That’s saying there are more opportunities for young footballers to play a different format of the game which has an England team, has a pathway.”
If at some point on that journey the young player finds themselves with an opportunity to pursue a career in football, then there is a choice to be made. A lot like that decision Rogic made only 5 or 6 years ago.
The FAs of all 4 Home Nations have embarked upon a series of Futsal coaching qualifications and there is a UEFA Futsal “B” License qualification available across Europe. But as with all coach education opportunities these are expensive, and for a sport which is in the main amateur, underfunded and where passionate and knowledgeable coaches undervalued, finding the funds to undertake Futsal coach education remains challenging. There are intermediate courses available, but again the challenge is convincing many of the football coaches that they actually need to do the qualification in the first place.
Fast-tracking football coaches will not give them an understanding of the game. Watching the sport on Eurosport – which is recording viewing figures vastly greater for international finals in the last 3 years than compared to the first televised programmes 15 years ago – will not develop an awareness of the highly demanding nature of the sport for both players and coaching staff alike.
A futsal coach has hundreds of opportunities to influence the game and has to make hundreds of decisions which can have a positive or negative effect on the outcome of the match; the same as the players. There are 14 players involved on each team; all different personalities and qualities who all need to be utilised in the best possible way. They each have to have an intimate awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of every one of their team mates. They are required to study their opponents from the pre-match analysis, through the warm-up and into the game. They must understand the game.
These skills are not developed in the sports hall at training. These skills need to be developed at the earliest possible age and the young player deserves to be given the very best level of coaching they can, from coaches who are knowledgeable, committed and passionate about the sport of Futsal. And they need to be developed through participation in organised, structured and compliant competition, under the international legislation. Playing for fun and training will always have a place, but it is the structure and confines of the match which sharpen the transferable skills which are so feted in football.
For perspective, examine the market values of some of the finest footballers of recent times who credit futsal as part of their development. Neymar, Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Xavi (the man responsible for the second quote!), Dani Alves and Rakitic in the current transfer market. These players have commanded transfer fees or have release clauses in contracts calculated collectively in terms of £BILLIONS. Surely an investment in Futsal with the best possible coaching structure is worth taking a closer look.
In recent times Spain have been European football Champions (despite being the smallest team collectively) and European Futsal Champions simultaneously and now we have Portugal holding the same position (with Ronaldo and Ricardinho holders of the “Balon D’Or equivalents) after their recent UEFA success. The evidence of the contribution to player development by “playing the game” is there so maybe time to stop compromising and take that small step forward.
Develop Futsal, for Futsals sake….
Written by Mark Potter, former Head Coach Scotland National Futsal Team.