The fly goalkeeper, when a team positions their goalkeeper in the opponent’s half to assist in the attack, is becoming more frequent in futsal. Originally it was a high risk strategy used as a last resort in the final minutes to mount a comeback but now it is also being utilised as defensive strategy throughout the duration of a game. In this article I am going to look at why this isn´t good for the game and identify a possible solution.

Whilst watching games from across the world I have noticed that many teams are now employing the fly goalkeeper early in matches with the objective to disrupt the rhythm of the game and maintain possession. In moments when the game isn’t going well or to kill the game after they have taken the lead, a team will bring on the fly goalkeeper. Rather than positioning their players close to the opponent’s goal with the intention to score, they attempt to utilise as much space as possible by putting the goalkeeper on the wing and the last player in or near their own half. This makes it difficult for the defence to press because, if they do, space is created between the defenders enabling the attackers to find the extra man and open up the defence. Without being pressed the team can maintain possession for long periods of time.

Higuita of Kairat

Higuita of Kairat

Kairat Almaty is the most well-known team for using this strategy. In Higuita they have a goalkeeper that is technically better on the ball than many outfield players. He waits just inside the opponent’s half and his team control the game with extended periods of possession. This has brought them great success as they won the 2012-13 UEFA Futsal Cup and the 2014 Eremenko Cup, titles they would be unlikely to claim without adopting this tactic.

Futsal is an inherently fast and dynamic game but extended use of the fly goalkeeper makes it static and slow, damaging the image and entertainment value of the sport. The fly goalkeeper used to be a very risky strategy but the tactics have evolved and, by spreading out, teams can now use it as a defensive strategy that is relatively low risk. Of course, maintaining possession as a defensive tactic can still be used during normal play but without numerical superiority it requires much more skill and is much more difficult.

As noted, this tactic can be very successful. Personally, I lose some respect for coaches using it (as I do for ones continually substituting players with one going out on one side of the gate and another entering on the other) but as long as it gives results someone will always be prepared to take advantage of it.

To impede its use the rules must be changed. However, I wouldn´t want to eliminate the fly goalkeeper altogether by introducing a regulation that doesn’t permit the goalkeeper to touch the ball in the opponent’s half. When used at the end of a match to mount a comeback it can be very exciting and keeps the game interesting and unpredictable until the end. I also like seeing when a goalkeeper dribbles the ball into the opponent’s half to create a counter attack. So a rule is required that allows these aspects of the game to remain whilst stopping it been used without the intention being to create an attempt on goal.

Cidao likes to intiate counter attacks

Cidao likes to intiate counter attacks

FIFA adapted the fly goalkeeper rule a few years ago so that the goalkeeper could no longer touch the ball again once it has crossed the halfway line. The only way they can repeatedly touch the ball currently is if they are in the attacking half. Clearly, though a step forward, this has not been enough to stop the abuse of this tactic. There have been several suggestions for a solution. One is the attacking team using the fly has a possession time limit once the goalkeeper touches the ball in the attacking half. However I think this would be difficult for referees to apply.

The option I prefer is that once the ball crosses the halfway line and the fly goalkeeper has touched the ball in the attacking half, the ball is no longer allowed to return into the defensive half like the “backcourt violation” in basketball. If it does, it would be a foul. This reduces the space that the attacking team have, making it easier for the defence to press and much more difficult for the attackers to maintain possession. At the same time it does not prevent a team that genuinely wants to risk using this tactic in order to score a goal.

Watching El Pozo's mastery of fly goalkeeper is entertaining

Watching El Pozo’s mastery of fly goalkeeper is entertaining

Futsal is a rapidly growing sport that grabs people´s attention when they see it for the first time. End to end counter attacking, interchanging of positions and stunning pieces of skill are all characteristics of the sport. The use of the fly goalkeeper without a strong intention to score turns it into a monotonous positional game with long periods of inaction. We must protect the spectacle and defend this beautiful game so people can continue to enjoy the real essence of futsal

What do you think of this type of use of the fly goalkeeper? Do you have a better solution to prevent its overuse?




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  1. Damon Shaw

    What's your issue with the flying sub?! That's a great one of move that if used well can create a chance.

    As for fly goalkeeper, to be honest, I rarely see teams adopting it as a defensive tactic now as opposed to 5 or 6 years ago. And even then it's not easy to do and still poses a risk. The time limit could work, it works in AMF futsal where the team has 15 seconds possession in their own half and the refs manage it okay, but the not going into your own half again could be a good move…

    However, I don't see it as an issue at the moment – only Kairat have had success with it – wasn't apparent much in the Euros or in LNFS this season.

  2. Doug Reed

    Thanks for your comment.

    For a while the abuse of the fly goalkeeper reduced after the rule change but now it is creeping back in as teams have worked out how to use it with the new rules.

    I disagree that it isn't an issue at the moment. In the UEFA Futsal Euro Azerbaijan, Croatia, Romania and Holland all used it as way to maintain possession. In the UEFA Futsal Cup Final Four two of the four teams, Araz and Kairat, used it extensively. The semi-final between those teams was viewed by many as incredibly boring.

    Though in Spain its use is not extensive, Manacor have used it in the way mentioned many times this year. Whether it is successful or not, and if they are using it I presume those teams feel it is, is not so relevant as it still affects the spectacle. These competitions are the pinnacle of our sport (at least in Europe) and are a way to promote the sport so I certainly believe something needs to be done.

    With the flying sub, my issue is with the fact that there is no skill involved in doing it and it is not the real essence of the game. I like to see teams who beat their opponent through intelligence, technique and other talents. I saw one team doing it continually through a match. It is a personal opinion and I don't mind too much if the odd team does it occasionally.

  3. Michał Kubica

    I see your point but cannot accept such an idea. We should provide coaches with as much tactical freedom as possible. Futsal allows a high flexibility which makes it different from other indoor sports (where there are more rules than actual tactics ;p) Current rules are good, one touch for keeper on his own half and 5sec possesion.
    And btw I haven’t seen many teams that play fly keeper really well. Personally I think still more goals ale lost than scored due to this.
    And yes, 2018 EURO was kinda boring (considered tactically), but modern futsal is not about crazy skills (Ricardinho only ;p) and randomness , it’s about maintaining possesion. The difference is strongly visible at Wolrd Cup where mainly African teams play “happy futsal” and the European ones care about possesion and defensive game. Which ones usually reach further stages?
    In my opinion making the game visibly attractive and faster at all costs should not be key issue. Many other sport disciplines may be considered boring and still have lots of followers.
    Futsal is very attractive to watch today, needs a lot more advertising maybe.

    • Doug Reed

      I think you are mistakenly, in my opinion, associating slow play with tactical play. You may observe that teams play with less tactical discipline may play a faster end-to-end game (what I think you mean by happy futsal) but that doesn’t mean the relationship works the other way and that teams that play fast have less tactical discipline.

      In fact, I would argue that the opposite can be true. The teams that are most successful such as Brazil and Spain execute the correct tactical solutions before their opponents. Futsal that is dynamic with lots of player movement and quick ball circulation is arguably more tactically demanding than static play that tries to maintain possession through the fly goalkeeper. And remember, the post is about the use of the fly goalkeeper specifically.

      Futsal is not a game of maintaining possession as you state. It is a sport where the objective is to try to score more goals than your opponent and, to achieve this, teams attempt to employ the most effective strategies. Depending on each team’s situation and circumstances, including the players’ qualities, this could mean maintaining possession or creating 1v1 situations for a skillful player. I think what you mean is that some teams have a style which involves lots of possession to create goal-scoring chances and prevent them for the other team but this is still just one of many approaches that can be successful.

      I am a big fan of the fly goalkeeper and it helps to maintain the excitement in games to the very end. This is one of futsal best assets. However, I want to see it used for trying to score goals and not with the sole purpose of maintaining possession and running the clock down. The rules I propose are to encourage this type of play and I would be strongly against any proposal that tried to eradicate the fly goalkeeper.

      Thanks for your comments & opinions Michal!

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