A recent article published on the BBC website entitled “Could futsal help produce an English Messi?” has caused a mixed reaction within the futsal community. Some think these types of ‘futsal for football’ articles are excellent for developing our sport and others find them detrimental. In this post I want to look at the underlying beliefs that football needs futsal to develop better players and futsal needs football in order to promote the game.

Tiki-Taka

FC Barcelona have caught everyone’s attention by achieving success through applying an intricate possession based style. The resemblance of this way of playing to futsal has led to the opinion by some that it should be a part of any football training programme. This has been reinforced by the myth that FC Barcelona use futsal in the training sessions of their 1st team and youth players.  Is futsal the source of the resemblance? Could the similarity just be a coincidence?

I would argue that it stems from the concept of space. Pep Guardiola wanted his team to control possession and he achieved this by creating an overload in areas of the pitch. This requires that his players are able to play in tight situations. Due to the characteristics of the game Futsal players apply techniques and tactics that are effective for playing in small spaces. The limitation of space causes their ways of playing to be alike.

Barcelona employ small sided games in their training sessions, both at senior and youth level. This gives them a wealth of players who have had to become technically proficient and intelligent to be capable of excelling in congested areas. These small sided games are very similar to the training methods adopted in futsal and the game itself. Both FC Barcelona and futsal use a training philosophy of small sided and simplified game situations to be able to play in this way.

Therefore futsal is not essential for creating these technical players. With the right type of training you can develop these players without it. There are other characteristics in futsal that help improve these skills further, such as the hard surface and heavier ball which increase the tempo. But principally, it is the space available that shapes the attributes of an FC Barcelona and a futsal player.

A Football Development Tool

Why has futsal been implemented at youth level in many of the world’s top footballing nations? Some of the world’s greatest ever players, including Pele, Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi, have spoken about how playing futsal in their childhood was key to their development.  It is suggested that England should copy countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Spain and introduce futsal to children in order to produce the football technicians required in today’s modern game.

The BBC article states;“In those countries, Futsal is part of a development programme where children play the sport up until the ages of 10 or 11 before deciding whether to focus solely on football or stay with the small-sided variant.”It is not actually true that the sport was established as part of a planned and structured development programme. The popularity initially grew from the limited availability of full size grass pitches, yet futsal courts are found in every school and in every neighbourhood. The sport grew in these places because people enjoyed playing and watching it and it was only later that it was discovered that it was helping to improve the ability of football players. There are countries which have been successful where futsal hasn’t existed, such as Germany.

To provide the ideal football development environment requires coaches who have an excellent education and a lot of time with the players. In England this has been an unachievable goal so far.  With characteristics of futsal reflecting ideal football training, the promotion of the sport is a much easier way to achieve the objective of developing better football players. This needs to be done through making futsal readily available especially in informal settings. Personally I would prefer futsal to be used to develop futsal players but surely the more children that play the sport the more will have this ambition.

How to promote futsal?

Considering that futsal can help develop football players should this be the way we promote and develop the sport? Football is a multi-billion pound industry and by latching on to it we can access some of that wealth. These financial resources can be used to develop futsal in many ways, including increasing its professionalism.

From my experience in England I am sure futsal would not be as developed as it is, even if some believe it is not progressing fast enough, without the help and funding from The Football Association. Would we have such well organised tournaments as The Futsal World Cup and The Futsal Euro without the help of FIFA and UEFA?

The current UEFA Futsal Cup holders are FC Barcelona Alusport who have invested heavily in both their first team and their youth section. This wouldn’t have been possible without the financial resources generated by the football section. Could we promote the game and achieve such progress without this? If the only reason to invest in futsal is because it is hoped it will create the next Messi, will it provide the sustainable impetus and momentum needed to develop and grow this sport? Football might just move on to the next ‘magic pill’.

Football is the world’s most popular sport and so by promoting through football we can gain the attention of the many fans that follow it. In England futsal is almost solely promoted through its relationship with football and I have seen how the awareness of the sport has grown. I don’t think this would have been possible otherwise.However, in England some people now know the name but not the sport. They think it is doing skills with a heavier ball, a football coaching tool or even table football! Does this type of promotion create the kind of attention and image we want? Would we see articles about futsal in the mainstream media, like the one on the BBC, if the link with football wasn’t mentioned? Will we always be seen as football’s little brother, limiting our possibilities? Is our view of our sport so low that we don’t think it can be promoted on its own merits?

Where I stand

My personal view is that we should use the benefits to football that futsal offers as a way to promote the game. However it should not be the main selling point of this sport. When raising awareness of futsal we should first describe the characteristics of this fast paced and dynamic game and how it is fun to play and exciting to watch. Let’s talk about the great tournaments we have, such as the FIFA FutsalWorld Cup and UEFA Futsal Cup, or the amazing abilities of the best players in our history such as Falcao or Paulo Roberto. Afterwards we can highlight how it has benefited many of the best footballers ever produced.

This will encourage children to try futsal. Then there is the possibility they will be captivated and fall in love with this beautiful game, where you are always involved in the action. The futsal ‘product’ is outstanding. The problem is awareness. If people get a taste it will sell itself and hopefully they will become hooked. This happened to me who, after playing football my whole life, gave it up completely shortly after being introduced to futsal.

This is why I think the BBC article is a positive thing. If we look past the catchy and slightly ridiculous headline, which is needed to grab the attention, towards the end it talks about the England Futsal team, The Futsal World Cup, the popularity of the sport in across the globe and the fight to be entered into The Olympics.

I hope that in the future articles about futsal will be the opposite way round; first discussing this incredible game, with only a small mention at the end of how it helped players like Pele, Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi. I don’t think there is any right or wrong view on this subject. For me all is debatable and I look forward to seeing others’ opinions on the matter. Should we use football to promote futsal or is there another way?

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