Argentina became World Champions at the 2016 FIFA Futsal World Cup and added their name to the trophy alongside Brazil and Spain, the two dominant forces who had won the previous seven editions. Unlike the favourites, they had never previously gone further than the quarter finals and they didn’t have a national league. So how did they manage to reach the pinnacle of world futsal?
One of the most important factors was without doubt the leadership of Head Coach Diego Giustozzi since he took over the national team in 2014. You could see his influence in their performances in Colombia compared to previous Argentina teams. They no longer played like they were inferior to more established nations and aimed to dominate their opponents.
I sat down to chat with the World Cup winning coach who moved to Europe at 18 years old to embark on a distinguished playing career in Italy, Spain and Argentina that finished when he took over the national team. We discuss how they managed to achieve such an incredible feat, their experiences in Colombia and the future for the Argentina National team as well as his own personal ambitions.
I am sure you will find lots of fascinating insights from one of the most inspiring coaches in world futsal with key learnings on what produces a successful national team from both a coaching and development perspective. Enjoy!
What memories do you have of that World Cup final?
The truth is they are memories that are difficult to explain with words because it was a unique moment. From the moment we won the semi-final I had to try not to motivate the team too much because a World Cup final is very motivating. But also not to relax too much because whatever happened in that final we had already achieved something historic. Therefore, it was a challenge of managing the psychology that was really interesting.
I believed we won the game in the first 10 minutes because we played as we had came to play, as we had prepared for the game and I didn’t see the Russia of their other games. It was a more individual Russia, more dependent on Robinho and Eder Lima. And we were still the same team. We weren’t suffering from being in a final. I thought “we are going to win this”.
As you said it was a challenge to manage the group because nearly all the players hadn’t experienced such an important game. How did you see the squad?
I thought the group looked good. In reality I was the most worried one because in the few days before the final I watched every game of Russia from both the World Cup and that year’s Euro. I thought they were very solid and compact, winning by big scores. The Russians were very good.
Therefore, I was the most worried. I saw my players relaxed, very confident, knowing their strengths and weaknesses. I always stress this a lot, what we have done well to get us to where we are and what we mustn’t do.
I will never forget the picture I saw when I was preparing for the game in my hotel room and looked down out the window. I saw the Russian players coming in lines going to watch a video or to prepare something and my players were in the swimming pool with their families and children, playing in the water and knocking a ball about with their friends.
That really pleased me. Some will say that is not professionalism but that is a lie. I was happy my players were the same as always. This made me relax. The players transmitted calm to me. But, of course, this needed to be tested on the court. It was not only the first World Cup final for them but also for me. I was only 38 years old. It is something illogical.
What has been the impact of this title in Argentina?
Incredible! It surprised me. In Argentina they demand titles like this. The country needed a title in football. The men’s team hasn’t been doing well, nor the juniors or women’s. At the moment Argentina national teams haven’t been getting results. And we sent a message.
We were on the front of all the newspapers and magazines. I never thought our sport could generate this and what it still generating to this day. Things that are really unimagineable. I think Argentinian futsal is going to have a before and after the 1st October 2016. So the truth is that I feel very happy that it’s a big change for the better.
You won the World Cup without having a professional or national league in the country. How was that possible?
We professionalised the national team. I was very clear on that, I was a player and I knew they couldn’t compete at the international level. I think I took a key decision when I became national team coach that I moved our training sessions to the morning.
With the federation I said the players had to train in the morning and earn more. They could train with the national team in the morning and with their clubs in the evening so they could have 7 or 8 sessions per week. This was key so that Vasile, Vaporaki, Stazzone for example, could play a World Cup on par with Italy, Russia and Spain. It was three years of a lot of high level training sessions.
After, it was knowing very clearly their virtues and defects. We knew we didn’t have to be the most talented national side, we had to be the best team. We had to supplement our technical and physical abilities, in which our rivals were superior, with a perfect team game. I believe we did 8 weeks of preparation for the World Cup perfectly. We didn’t make any mistakes. The training, rest & recovery, tactics, games, everything.
We didn’t have any stars. We had a team that cancelled out the oppoenent completely. We stopped Ricardinho, Eder Lima, the Egyptian player that defeated Italy. We won by a margin in both the quarter and semi-finals and only didn’ in the final because when we were winning 5-2 we relaxed because I believe we thought we were already World Champions. Because of that madness we conceded goals.
You are working on creating a national league in Argentina now. How will you achieve this objective?
I am not going to achieve this objective. This is clear. More so, I don’t want my sport to be all about Diego Giustozzi. I want it to be a sport of everyone. Thanks to my experience and the moment we are living, I, personally, am trying to contribute my experience.
I am looking to create a national league as we can’t compete with leagues that are regional or in one city. If the Spanish League was just the league of Madrid it would be a very poor league. The same if the Italian league was just in Rome or the Russian league only played in Moscow.
Therefore, we need to have a national league. This is dependent on the work of many people. We are now intensifying the work to achieve these objectives and, hopefully, we are capable of taking this project forward. If we don’t, I will be calm because I gave everything to make it happen. Hopefully, we can do it between us and we can make it professional because the moment is now. It is now or never.
How come futsal is so developed in your neighbours Brazil but not in Argentina? Many people from outside would expect there to be a professional league but, as you said, there isn’t even a national league.
Pffff! The truth is I don’t know why it is Brazil that arrived where it arrived many years ago. I believe Argentina at the present time doesn’t know how to sell the product like Brazil. Argentina has improved a lot and we have many professional players and professional clubs but we don’t sell like Brazilians.
If we take the important decisions that Brazil took twenty years ago, we will be in a good place in five years. For sure we now have the capability and potential to make this sport the same as what it is today in Brazil or Spain, Russia, Italy, Portugal or wherever. This is a unique and historic moment in the country. Even though we are twenty years behind what futsal is in Brazil, I hope this is the moment to take the leap forward.
You won the World Cup without a national league, so I imagine you still have a large margin for improvement!
We have a big margin for improvement. We have many very good things but it is true that what the national team did was unheard of. Really incredible. People who go outside the country realise this. They as themselves “How is it possible with what we have to achieve this?”
Of course, Brazil have five World Cups, Spain two and we only have one but the truth is it a little incredible and hopefully the message I send out to the national team is anything is possible. Because when I arrived in the national team the only thing I was hearing was “no, this isn’t possible”, “we can’t do this because of this or that”.
This made me crazy because for me, in life, can’t doesn’t exist. With ability, humility, planning, professionalism, everything is possible. I believe I sent the national team a very strong message on this.
In your playing career you had well known coaches Venancio and Miguel Rodrigo plus Jesus Velasco influenced you a lot. Can you tell us for each of the important coaches in your career one thing you have taken from them and used in your work as a coach?
I think I took a little bit from all of them. I took the defensive phase of Venancio (see my interview with Venancio here), the way of being of Miguel Rodrigo, the offensive phase of Jesus Velasco. I took from all of them.
Venancio was the one who introduced me into the world of professionalism and details. I came from Italy where its light years away from what it is in Spain and Venancio opened my eyes. But there are many things where we are distinct from each other, in terms of managing the group, in the attacking phase, in many things that I interpret in a different way. Venancio had a big impact on me.
Also Miguel Rodrigo and I studied Velasco a lot as I watched his teams many times. I took many things from him as well as from many coaches. I try to be myself with my personality and take the best of each one.
When you were a player, did you think I want to be a coach? Were you taking notes?
This was incredible. Those that know me personally, know that when I was a player I was a coach inside the court. When I was with Venancio and in Italy, I was noting down exercises. I wanted to be a coach.
Everyone says playing is more enjoyable than coaching. I enjoy coaching more. In my last years playing I was already a coach. I looked after youth teams. I ended up being player-coach in many teams. I could see I was going to be a coach. I stopped playing because I didn’t care anymore about being a player, I wanted to be a coach.
I was fortunate that I had the offer to coach Argentina. It is rare because usually you coach a club, gain experience there and then move on to the national team. I have done the opposite. The truth is in 3 years we played 11 finals from 11 tournaments and won 6. Not even if I had the most positive outlook possible, I thought this would happen. If someone had said this to me I would have said you’re crazy and it really is incredible.
What is your preferred way of playing if you had your ideal players?
My style of play, my team, everything I am is decided by the players. The players choose the values. and principles. It doesn’t matter to me who they are. I have to try to find a way of attacking and defending that makes them better players. That makes them feel like people, happy, that fills their soul.
It is not about the tactics, the players are the protagonists. I have to work to find a training methodology, a playing system that fills their soul, that they are themselves. After that, of course, I am obsessed with tactics. I have to try to adjust some things to agree with what players I have.
But I am going to repeat. My job is to get 100% out of the sporting and human element of each player. For me this is fundamental, my focus and obsession. Luckily, this is what I managed to do with Argentina and we achieved unthinkable and historic feats.
I presume that one day you will leave the Argentinian National Team. What are your ambitions and plans for your career in the future?
The truth is I am very comfortable in the Argentina national team. They treat me very well, I get on well with my managers, I feel very happy working here and I can’t complain about anything. We won everything and the players are happy in the team. They play like I want.
I miss the day to day and coaching every day and competing every weekend. This is something that I find difficult but I am in a very privileged place and until the last day I am going to enjoy it. To leave Argentina I would have to be somewhere that I am very motivated to be in. Therefore, I don’t know.
I have a contract until the end of the year. When the moment arrives, I will decide. I live in the present but I am still young at 39 years old. It is true that I aspire to coach a club and to live the day to day of working in a club. I don’t know the future but I repeat I am enjoying the present and I live what I have. It is not everyday that you get to coach your country.
You must already be thinking about the 2020 World Cup. How are you preparing for this tournament? Do you expect to continue with many of the same players?
I prepare for 2020 but not for me. I prepare for the national team. From the moment I coached my country the benefit to me personally was in the background.
I do it for my country and my sport. I do it for the benefit of my country because I don’t know if I am coaching the team in 2020. I am very clear on this.
In a club it is another thing. Then you care about yourself as well but in the national team you don’t. I could earn much, much more money somewhere else. I’m not here for money, only for the motivation of coaching my country and to give back everything my country has given me in my life. Everything I am today is thanks to futsal and thanks to Argentina.
Therefore, what I prepare for 2020 is for the wellbeing of the sport and the wellbeing of Argentina. For what Argentina needs, not what Diego Giustozzi needs. After the end of the 2016 World Cup we studied, with [Assistant Coach] Mathias Luciux and my staff, about how we could arrive better in 2020.
I believe we leave results a little to one side, although it is a slight lie because every tournament we play, we go to win. After the World Cup we played two finals, winning one and losing the other. We want to win but also to begin to give minutes to younger players. They were training well and we want that they have the possibility, when 2019 or 2020 arrives, to be capable to play the World Cup.
I was a player and to play a World Cup you need a lot of experience. You have to have 50 international matches to play a World Cup. We want to give those players games so that they when the World Cup arrives, I’m not saying they will play, but that they are prepared.
If the players that played the last World Cup who are still, today, part of the national team, don’t play anymore it is important it is down to me and not the press or external influences. Therefore, with the same players that played the 2016 World Cup plus the players that we are giving minutes now like we did in recent tournaments, we have to find the fourteen best players that are the most prepared for that moment.
In 2020 we will play with the badge on the chest of World Champions. It is not the same to play against Argentina before and to play against Argentina now for the opponent’s motivation and their tactical plan against us is now like against Spain or Brazil. It is not the same to play in the Argentinian national team now like before. The opponents will have extra motivation. So, we took this decision and we will continue to give minutes to younger players until 2020, trying to continue to win titles.
Do you think this is the difference from before, now that you are World Champions you now have a winning mentality and confidence because Argentina has always had talent but their best previous performance in the World Cup was reaching the quarter finals?
Yes, Argentina has always had great teams because I was a player and I saw my teammates and the quality we had. In Argentina we have to learn one thing, that the details make the difference. In the national team we work on the most miniscule detail.
We are very clear on this if we want to win the World Cup which was our objective because before we had never gone into a World Cup with this aspiration, only thinking let’s see what happens. I said on my first day in our first conversation, Argentina is capable of winning the World Cup.
But we have to be clear on things. We don’t have the best players and we don’t have the best national team so we have to work harder and better than our rivals. And I believe in this detail we made the difference.
Before the World Cup we did the easy thing, we went toe-toe with our rivals. We were the Copa America and Copa Intercontinetal champions. We played at their level. Normally the details fall on the side of experience, the side of teams like Brazil and Spain. We had to work so the detail falls on our side. And I believe we did it.
In Argentina we miss this at every level. We fail to work on the details and it is the details that are decisive in the difficult moments, whether you will win or lose. I believe the change of mentality has been helped by the results, a good playing system, a good training methodology so that the player became convinced it was possible. From there we worked on the details. And in the end the results went our way so we can say we did a good job.
What are some of the qualities that make Argentinian players special?
We grow up playing futsal in open air courts in the rain, training at 10pm or 11pm at night and returning on the bus after midnight. Meanwhile the Spanish, Italians, Russians and Brazilians are training at 12 years old with the best balls, a 40mx20m court with wooden flooring and heating. But we suffered to arrive where we have arrived.
Argentines have a quality that no other player has in the world. No-one in the world knows how to suffer like Argentinians. With difficulties Argentinians grow, improve. They enjoy the battle and to fight. This is priceless.
I hope you enjoyed our conversation as much as I did. It was clear to see why Diego is such a motivating leader that players want to follow as I found chatting with him was very inspiring. This month, after this interview took place, the first ever national league in Argentina was announced from which Giustozzi had championed and worked on for a long time.
It is another achievement for Argentinian futsal alongside the World Cup victory that is transforming the sport in the country. Before reaching his 40th birthday Diego has already achieved so much and made a huge impact. Without doubt, with his passion and expertise, there will be many more successes to come as he continues his journey.