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Wednesday, 16 February 2011

FA Needs Futsal Up Arse

“How did players such as Luis Figo, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Robinho and Roberto Carlos develop skills that set them apart from other players?” the English FA’s website asks plaintively (and not unreasonably). “What did they do as youngsters that provided them with the basis to becoming some of the world’s best players?” it continues. Holy shit, I thought. The FA have cracked it. They’ve put two and two together and got four, rather than three or five or Prince William. The future of the nation’s youth development is finally upon us.

“If you are interested in the answer then you need to learn more about a game called Futsal.” Wait… what? If I’M interested in the answer? Isn’t this more YOUR remit? Has anyone told Trevor Brooking?

Futsal, as you may or may not be aware, is a bit like five a-side. The FA, staggeringly, highlights the differences thus: “The differences to our traditional versions of Small Sided Football are the absence of rebound boards and some slight amendments in the laws that favour skilful, creative play above the physical contact that tends to be a feature of English five a side.”

Well, yes. But the benefits of futsal don’t stop at the fact that there’s nothing to smash your opponent into around the side of the pitch and a smaller, heavier ball. And alright, it’s like most small-sided games in that space is confined, the emphasis is on technique and movement, not physicality, and it requires you to be pretty fit and tactically aware. The best thing about Futsal though is that it’s a global game and the emphasis is on speed, skill and finesse.

If you were any good at join the dots as a kid, you might see where I’m going with this one. If not, I suggest you look above (or at various pieces on our blog) and see the spectre of every failing that English footballers are ever accused of having – the technical deficiencies we bemoan, the poor decision making, the idiotic 40-yard Hollywood balls, the inability to play at speed – real speed – and then read the last paragraph again.

Now, it would be fairly blinkered of me to suggest that no English footballer ever plays small-sided games as part of their development. I just suspect they probably don’t play enough of them, and I also suspect that by the time all the lads who can kick it right hard have been filtered from a crop of 12-year olds, they’ll be playing big-boy football until they’re approaching 40.

So this quote from Deco: “I played [futsal] from the age of nine until I was 16 when I had to stop to go on with my football career. It improved my speed and dribbling skills”, should alert the FA to Futsal’s possibilities. I would be prepared to bet that the pre- and early-teen Deco was not being carted off to a pitch resembling an enormous pudding to hoof the ball as far as he could and run after it every Sunday morning.

Futsal was born in the 1930s in South America and The International Federation for Futebol de Sala (FIFUSA) was officially founded in Brazil in 1971. The first World Champions, perhaps inevitably, were Brazil, who fielded an illustrious selection of players from their 11-aside game that had been brought up playing the sport, namely Pele, Zico, Rivelino and Falcao. In 1989, following a dispute with FIFUSA over administration, FIFA set up its own World Cup, also won by Brazil, and coined the name ‘Futsal’ in the process.

The fourth FIFA World Championship in Guatemala City in 2000 was won by Spain, partly the result of a development plan that began in 1996 when UEFA, recognising Futsal’s increasing popularity across Europe in the early 1990s, arranged a European tournament for national teams in Cordoba which was also won by the Spanish. Spain have won four of the six tournaments since.

I’ve got to be honest: if Futsal is good enough for Pele, Zico, Rivelino and Falcao, it’s certainly good enough for me. Good enough for the FA though? Er, apparently not. “The FA views Futsal as a high quality format of a small sided game”. NO. FOR FUCK’S SAKE. Stop defining everything against this bloody country. They were playing Futsal’s predecessor in South America 20 years BEFORE England learned that such a thing as ‘skills’ existed at the hands (or feet) of Hungary. Our ‘small-sided games’ are crap quality formats of Futsal. THEY ARE CRAP QUALITY.

So what of the development of Futsal in England? Well: “Until the introduction of the first official National Championships organised by The FA in July 2003, it had been left to individual groups of Futsal pioneers to develop the game in their local areas, venturing abroad when they could to play the game at a more advanced level.”

The FA Futsal Factsheet’s explanation for why the FA is interested in Futsal? Here: “Many countries that we admire for the technical skills of their players use Futsal as an aspect of youth development. Ball retention, quick and skilful play, tactical awareness – all are promoted in Futsal”. Oh, that and ‘Fair Play’ and ‘Exit Routes’ (in that you can play Futsal in a league or a cup – or even for club or country, should you decide there aren’t enough opportunities in “traditional five a-side”). But development? Implementation among young footballers? No thanks.

It’s like the FA have a gleaming jotter full of join-the-dots pictures of luscious apples, but so cack-handed are they at wielding the pen of innovation that every single one comes out looking like an onion. Why do they view it as a separate entity to football (especially in development) rather than a shining example? Why the hell does the whole guidance on Futsal portray it as an inferior game?

England do actually have a futsal team, you’ll be pleased to know. Their record, since the first international in 2006, is P50, W7, D3, L40. Their history includes shoeings by Poland (16-0), Azerbaijan (11-0) and Hungary (15-0) and smaller, but no less ignominious defeats to Cyprus, Libya, Indonesia, Malaysia, Kazakhstan and Macedonia (among others). It’s not really fair to criticise, I know, when you come to the party so late. The question here is why.

Why isn’t Futsal used, as it is in other countries, as an ‘aspect of youth development’? Fewer players, more touches, tight spaces, close control, attacking improvisation, speed of thought and reflexes – Futsal’s list of traits is more like one of desirable attributes. I’m sure there are small-sided games taking place among young players all over the country, but it just seems the FA are once again painfully behind the curve. On previous form, there is absolutely no shame in copying the continent. The game is formalised, centrally governed and cannot fail to improve the standard of the players that play it.

It places considerable demand on technique, movement, tactical awareness and fitness. And if you don’t believe me, take it from Luis Felipe Scolari – a WORLD CUP WINNING COACH, lest we forget: "Futsal is a good starting point for a footballer, we need to take advantage of what Futsal has to offer – namely the lightning speed with which it is played". Big Phil speaks the truth. COME ON FA. Get the kids playing it. Futsal is the way forward. And if you were in any doubt, can you imagine our kids doing this?

1 comment:

  1. I have 2 sons who play for a local boys club in Scotland and also attend Futebol De Salao/Brazillian Soccer Skills classes. To say that BSS has improved their skills and awareness would be a massive understatement. When you see the BSS kids playing for the boys club you can see a noticable diffence in their composure on the ball and positional-sense on the pitch - they also try to keep the ball on the deck and thread a pass through rather than hoof it up the park and hope for the best. However, I think there needs to a change (and some people don't like change) in mindset within UK football from the SFA/FA as a whole and to act on the suggestions made in the article or we're going to be left far, far behind.