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On the 18th November 2012 in Bangkok’s Huamark Indoor Stadium, the final of the FIFA Futsal World Cup is being played. With 3 minutes and 44 seconds left on the clock, Brazil, the reigning champions, are losing 2-1 to fierce rivals Spain. At this moment Brazil’s most renowned player, Falcao, receives a pass 15 meters from goal with two Spanish defenders charging him down. In a split second he strokes the ball in front of him, using his sole, and shoots at goal with the outside of his left foot towards the top corner. Goal!!!!!!
Brazil had only made it to the final after the contribution of their star player in the semi-final against Argentina. Again losing 2-1 with the clock ticking down Falcao had come to the rescue to score the equaliser and take the game into extra-time. He then produced a stunning long ranger to carry his team into the final. He did all this despite sustaining a calf injury in the group stages that looked as if it would end his World Cup and suffering from a stress related condition that left half his face paralysed. Brazil would go on to win the final in extra time and took their 7th world title.
Falcao has long been Brazil’s and futsal’s superstar, transcending the sport, due to his ability to produce incredible pieces of skill that often have to be witnessed to be believed. These moments of genius have helped disseminate the sport and convert many into futsal enthusiasts.
In a recent interview he highlighted the lack of young players coming through that are able to produce those spectacular plays that captivate and mesmerise the crowd. Is futsal still encouraging this specific type of player that executes a breath-taking and unexpected piece of individual technical brilliance for the benefit of those watching?
If we look at that Brazil squad we can identify Falcao and to a lesser extent Vinicius, Simi and Fernandinho as the players with the talent capable of producing an astonishing piece of skill. At that time Falcao and Simi were 36 years old, Vinicius weeks away from his 36th birthday and Fernandinho was 30. Since then Brazil have rejuvenated their squad with new and younger players but it doesn’t appear there is anyone capable of taking the mantel from these players, highlighted by the fact that Falcao continues representing Brazil today, at the age of 37.
At the 2012 World Cup Spain had already begun the process of integrating their new generation to replace the players that had brought so much success over the previous decade. From that generation the two most notable players were Daniel Ibañes and Javi Rodriguez. These were two players that could do the unexpected and excite the spectators. Spain, too, don’t have anyone of this style coming through.
This is not to suggest that there isn´t a lot of talent in the current generation. Spain, for example, has the fantastic Lozano and Miguelin. They are two decisive players but their games are based on power rather than imagination. Without doubt what these and other top players are doing, with a high level of intelligence; movement and timing, is spectacular and entertaining.
The best move I ever witnessed in futsal was very simple and created by the Brazilian Schumacher. He would often time his movement with a change of pace and direction so that, when he controlled a pass, he was going in one way and his defender was passing him in the other. This was a work of art. It is not that there are not beautiful plays in futsal today; But maybe we are losing those specific individuals that regularly produce outlandish pieces of skill more for reasons of aesthetics than functionality.
The evolution of futsal
Over recent times, futsal as a sport has evolved considerably with an increasing level of professionalism. This has led to players in better physical condition and teams with more sophisticated tactical organisation. Added to this, being a relatively new sport, tactical ideas have continued to progress at a fast rate. Now players are quick to transition into defence when they lose the ball and position themselves appropriately to provide help and cover to a team-mate in defence. The outcome of this is fewer 1v1 duels and less space that these virtuosos I am referring to thrive on.
Spain has led the way in tactical development where their philosophy is based on the concept of the team over the individual. This is represented through fast ball circulation and co-ordinated movements which was effective in finally bringing World Cup success for the country in 2000 and 2004. I spent a whole season in Spain where we didn’t once play a match in training that wasn’t two touch and most other exercises were the same. This no doubt creates an environment where players can improve team play but this focus on the team can stifle the development of individual play.
Individual brilliance is still an invaluable asset as Falcao showed in the World Cup where he made the difference in the vital moments. To carry out these acts of brilliance requires not only skill but the willingness to take responsibility. This is what a team needs in difficult moments and this is what Falcao demonstrated in Thailand.
A player he did mention in his interview who is similar to himself was Ricardinho. The likeness could be partly because the 28 year old Portugal international names Falcao as his role model and has gone as far as having a tattoo with the words “Falcao Number 1” on his calf. It could be argued that Ricardinho has even superseded his idol with some of his plays, including the unbelievable ‘dolphin kick’ goal.
Inter’s form can be partly attributed to Ricardinho’s superb performances and pieces of skill but also to the excellent form of some of his teammates. This is the other thing this type of player offers. They transmit confidence to the players around them.
A further impact they have is the attention they bring. Since Ricardinho´s signing, Inter have being having higher attendances and increased media coverage. This is an important aspect for a sport that desperately needs to develop and attract investment. The fact Falcao remains in the Brazilian national team is no doubt down partly to his off field impact with sponsors and media even if he still has something to offer on the court.
If we want futsal clubs to be sustainable we need more fans coming to the games. I played in Croatia and Serbia and in these countries I saw that 6-a-side tournaments, with teams made up of friends, would get bigger crowds than national futsal league fixtures where tactical organisation is much more developed, and 1v1 situations and skill for the sake of entertainment are encouraged less.
Futsal will always provide a platform for moments of magic and great plays. This can be seen by the regular videos of futsal goals going viral on the internet and see here and here for a couple from the last few weeks. And there are young players with outstanding levels of technical brilliance, Ricardinho´s teammate Matias is one such example. But is there the beginning of a trend to neglect the development of those individualists that can carry their teams and the sport through producing a moment of brilliance? I hope not.
Here are a couple of articles since my last post. One I wrote for FutsalPlanet and the other is an interview with myself for TheFA.com.