Stewart Fisher, sports writer at the Herald talks to Gerry McMonagle.
WHAT does Malky Mackay have in common with Pele, Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Zico? The answer might not be obvious – the robust former Celtic and Scotland defender would certainly struggle to get a place in their five-a-side team – but it lies in the fact that all of the above are enthusiastic proponents of Futsal.
Part of the Project Brave proposals being driven forward by the SFA performance director is an imperative to move Under-16 academy football to a summer season, allowing for talented to kids to play this shorter, indoor form of the sport with a stopping clock like basketball and smaller ball which doesn’t bounce as much during the icy winter months.
Where Scotland currently lie in the pecking order will become clear when Gerry McMonagle’s international side – founded in 2014 and featuring only a sprinkling of current 11-a-side professionals like Elgin City’s Scott Smith and Craig McLeish of Albion Rovers – host a home nations tournament at Oriam this week.
The battle to incorporate futsal into Scottish football’s academy programmes is slowly being won – the likes of Celtic, Partick Thistle and Rangers already incorporate it into their weekly winter routines, with a number of ad hoc futsal academies springing up around the land – but McMonagle for one is determined to ensure that that this is not done on a piecemeal basis.
Futsal, after all, is a different beast to football. This glittering list of global superstars might have sharpened their touch in futsal – the use of the sole of the foot to control the ball is a crucial first step to maintaining possession in the tighter confines of the pitch – but, from the age of 12, these players were developed as football players, not futsal ones. Just as Messi himself might struggle to find a spot in Argentina’s surprise world cup winning outfit from Colombia 2016, so it would be interesting to see if a Scotland select featuring the likes of Callum McGregor and James Forrest could hold a candle to our best proponents of futsal.
As such, McMonagle is surprised that none of Scotland’s futsal fraternity has been officially co-opted to help oversee Mackay’s Project Brave transition. The sport in this country could also do with a bespoke centre to play, as opposed to Oriam, where the matches will merely be played in an admittedly state-of-the-art multi-sport arena where the lines of the court do not exactly comply with regulations.
“In all fairness, I would have thought now that academies are starting to introduce futsal that we would have been reached out to a bit more,” McMonagle told Herald Sport. “I would thought it would be ‘okay, let’s get someone in who knows a bit about futsal who can help a bit more with the coaching side of it’.
“I know some academies have started playing regularly at Under-11s level once a week, and I think from next year, as part of what Malky is looking to implement with Project Brave there is going to be even more focus on it,” he added.
“Hopefully by that point the SFA will have a full-time futsal delegate, who can oversee it all. Because, while more academies are doing futsal right now, it seems to be ‘let’s just play five-a-sides with a futsal ball’. There is a futsal academy here, there and everywhere but a lot of them aren’t actually playing futsal.
“Basically, what introducing futsal at a young age should mean is that kids are less likely to play a long ball, their passing has be shorter, sharper, and they have to learn about beating a man. But what has to be respected is that football, and futsal, are both sports in their own right.
“Yes, these players like Ronaldo, Messi, Ronaldinho all played futsal up to the age of 12 then they went through the football pathway. What they learned from there was that their first touch had to be on the sole of their feet in that tight situation. Players in Scotland tend to use the inside of their foot for that touch to get the ball out of our feet, but if we do that on a futsal court we lose possession straight away.”
As if to illustrate the difference between the two codes, McMonagle is blooding a new generation of futsal stars, rather than merely relying on senior Scottish professionals who just happen to be blessed with a blinding first touch. Smith and McLeish – the former was reared on the shorter form of the game as part of the Cathro coaching clinics which led into Dundee United along with Ryan Gauld, John Souttar and Scott Fraser – are the exceptions in this squad, the rest of whom are futsal specialists with no design on a future in professional football. Scotland missed out on qualification for both the World Cup and European Championship finals – another similarity you might say between the two codes.
“We made a conscious decision in March this year to say that we were starting to develop futsal players, not just football players who are decent at futsal,” said McMonagle.
“It is a totally different squad from the one which went out to Georgia in January. The average age has come down from about 29 to about 22, but technically I feel they are much more adaptable and we have dropped the age of the team dramatically, worked tirelessly on them and over the last seven or eight months these players have come on leaps and bounds.”
With wages even at Championship-level Scottish clubs not exactly of the life changing variety, just perhaps for a few of these guys, a move to one of the top Futsal leagues in Spain or France could be a productive career move.
“When we played Georgia in January, the Georgia goalkeeper was on something like 20,000 Euros a week,” he added. “Kyle [Ballingall, of Perth Saltires] from our squad, he has been over playing in Croatia and the south of France, he is probably the one member in the squad that has played futsal on a full-time basis, rather than recreationally.
“Scott [Smith] has only come into the Scotland squad relatively recently but he is very technically gifted and has adapted well to futsal. You could teach a kid to do 50 different skills, tricks or techniques, but you can’t teach decision-making.”
With futsal incorporated into the larger academies down south, Scotland as usual are playing catch-up on our English cousins. But finally getting serious about futsal may be one of the best decisions Scottish football has ever made.
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