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.
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.
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?
A well written article by Doug Reed. My personal view is that Futsal would not even exist if football had not come first (The clue is in the name futbol sala/futebol de salao) and the constant denial of football by some futsal purists is counter-productive and illogical. I would love to see Irish kids get the chance to play futsal from the earliest age all the way up to adulthood but to be playing 11-a-side too if they want to or not without being accused of somehow insulting futsal by doing that. I am driven to help futsal achieve its full potential in Ireland and always have been but the constant argument over whether it should have a relationship with football is such an irrelevant argument and it does futsal no good at all.
Good points Stephen.
This is the argument I'm trying to make. Children and adults should play whatever they want in the moment. If that is futsal or football or a mix or basketball, volleyball, tennis or whatever they wish.
The problem is if children are instructed to play futsal to improve their football ability and then they think that is the only reason to play it. The image of futsal becomes just a development tool not something to enjoy for its own sake and with its own pathways (this is why national league clubs and national teams development is important).
Every child I have ever coached played sport to have fun (until adults affect their mindset) as their main motivation, not to be a professional (even if they have that as a goal). Therefore making it enjoyable should be the main objective for coaching sessions for under 12s (and I would argue it should be a very important one at any level including senior). And anyway this will develop the passion and motivation required to spend the time learning and playing that is essential if they are to make it to the elite level.
Let's allow the kids to choose and think for themselves instead of doing it for them.
Well done Doug. Excellent article!
excelente articulo del futsal, aqui en venezuela y el resto de sudamerica el futsal es base fundamental para el desarrolo del futbolista en las categorias menores y se juega desde campeonatos de barrios hasta la liga profesional de forma masiva de ahi el exito del futsal en nuestro continente
great article Doug! got me thinking. I started with futsal for our 6-12 year olds as a way to develop their game generally but over the last two years we’ve done it I’m seeing how much it stands up as a great game in its own right. I see a lot of this “next messi” thing and don’t think it’s that useful (other than getting people to read the article!) – so much about football is geared towards this kind of thinking rather than making the game enjoyable for everyone – the vast majority are always going to be recreational players.
Talking about football development generally, futsal has a lot of advantages – something about the containment in a court helps the kids concentrate on the game – it encourages parents and coaches to leave the game alone, the dimensions make sense (the goal size/area, the number of players, the pitch size etc) and it discourages parents/coaches chucking more players on to “push them” towards “proper” pitches/goals/etc at too early an age. I tend to let them just get on with the games when doing futsal – it’s what they want and they all have so much fun – it’s very like street football when you leave them to it.
The futsal ball too i think is great for young kids to get used to having it under control quickly – and not bouncing all over the place (especially in australia where they like to AFL-kick the things!) – i’ve used futsals outdoors for this reason.
Germany not using futsal is hard to explain, but well, they’re the Germans – i’ll bet they have had small sided games as part of their philosophy for a long time.
When I talk futsal over here people often have stories about futsalers not being that good at 11 a side – worries me that parents will feel like they have to choose, or the myths will separate the two games too much – i mean why not play both? – again, i’m generally talking about young (and eventually old) players who play for fun here.
Thanks for sharing your views and experiences.
I agree with what you say about Germany. I would argue any successful football nation has had children that played in an environment that had the features of limited players in limited space. What it is called doesn´t have an effect!
Mostly this would have been played in the streets as this is the only way players can get enough contact time with the ball.
In France futsal was non-existent before but if we look at the World Cup winning side of 1998 they had lots of players from poor backgrounds where street football would have been played. Again Holland don´t play much futsal but have a thriving street football culture (and they recreate this is their youth programmes).
The best example is here in England. The generation of 1966 that were world champions will have played a lot of street football but the current generation doesn´t so much.
The funny thing is here in England the football clubs talk about their amazing and latest facilities and coaching methods for youth players but the majority of any player´s ability is formed in informal settings.
When we look at the top players they always had some sort of informal play like this during their childhood. Look at the examples of Iniesta, who recently talked about playing futsal as a child, and Rooney, who has said he grew up playing with his friends on the street.
Until England increases the amount children play in games with these characteristics, such as street football and futsal, we will not produce world class football players. That is why I think futsal played in the streets is important for both futsal itself and football. The problem is there is no financial incentive to develop this though definitely it will benefit society.
Amazing article Doug, as you know I am futsal coach in Barcelona so I have lot to say about.
Firstly, I would pay attention in the relations you establish: futsal offers skills improvement and football offers promotion. I agree, but I miss whose futsal skills could be improved by playing football. Why futsal may develop football players and not in both directions?
In addition, I think that, like everything in life, the most experiences you live, the best you are. It is not only that by playing futsal you get better football player. May be, if you play a different additional sport every weekend you will improve as football player, too.
I think that the most important things are coordination and rhythm, and obviously you will improve them better in tight spaces, as you say.
On a separate note, football is promoting futsal, ok, but ¿is futsal only benefitting of football? The answer is ¡No!
For instance, in promotion issue, futsal would be olimpic, and it can't because it is considered a discipline of football, not considered as a sport itself.
Or, ¿what do you think about kick córners instead of serving them with hands? futsal people have lost many goals (spectacle) since it is a reality. So why this change became? It started off to make futsal more similar to football. It's obvious that serving corners with hands has no sense in football.
It is great to have your expert opinion on this subject. As a coach for FC Barcelona's futsal section your knowledge on this subject surpasses my own and it was great to read your comments.
I agree 100% when you say (both in life and futsal!)
"I think that, like everything in life, the most experiences you live, the best you are."
In fact research has shown that athletes reaching the elite level generally play many sports before specialising in one sport later.
Your point about football helping futsal is shown by the fact that some of the greatest futsal players ever, including Luis Amado and Schumacher, started playing futsal very late after beginning in football.
The struggle to be entered in The Olympics is an example of it limiting futsal's possibilities and is one of the trade offs for the finance and promotion football can offer futsal.
What you say about the rules is the subject of my next post so I will comment on that then!
Appreciate your comments. Best wishes.
My own opinion is that futsal has to promote itself in the future to be able to be a respected and noteworthy sport all over the world. But the challenges differ from one country to another. In some "futsal-friendly" countries (Portugal, Spain, Italy, Brazil…) the sport itself is recognized and respected even by football players and the promotion and marketing of the sport should be rather easy, but in more "traditional football countries" (England, Germany etc.) the sport itself is currently considered more as a by-product of football.
In some countries like in Germany the amount of spectators are already on good level and the challenges they face are to get their teams to perform well in UEFA tournaments so they are already on a good path on getting futsal fully recognized.
But for example here in Finland we are still trying to get the masses interested in futsal and to find their way into futsal arenas. Before we get the spectator levels high enough we can not really get full recognition from the media and not even from the football community. It is a long battle and the progress has been disappointing low in the recent years.
Before we can get there I believe that in Finland we have to work together with the football community and try to build the sport up from there. But in more "futsal-advanced" countries you could start promoting futsal right away as its own.
Having used futsal in partnership with football it has proven a huge success with 5 academy representatives successfully making it into pro academies within the U.K.
Key components can be sharpened within 6-12 weeks, watching an outdoor game of football it is easy to identify those players who have been trained through futsal as they are more creative, balanced, technically advanced and more astute; (Intelligent/instinctive both on and off the ball).
Playing on a hard surface and using a weighted ball with no atmospheric interferences makes a significant difference both to the player technically and mentally. High repetition is key and is ultimately the difference between an outdoor and indoor training session.
Small-sided games can be replicated from football to futsal; the key factor is the weight and the size of the ball with the emphasis on fluidity/creative play. This has been the FCB philosophy and will remain an unrivaled style of play due to the nature and the environment that their players are trained in and the coaching methodology that is expressed throughout FCB's football and futbol de sala academy.
Scouting players for pro academies is made easier when players have been influenced through the game of futsal. Pro academies throughout the U.K and Europe search for players that can offer an individual influence to a group of players that ultimately form a creative style of play, those players that have come through futsal have a better chance of pursuing football excellence and potentially making it as a professional player.
I want to focus this reply on whose futsal skills could be improved by playing football. It is a reality that football players are phisically better than futsal ones in terms as velocity or strenght.
Why do you think this is because of?
I can suggest some reasons.
First: fouls limitation benefits spectacle but avoid body fighting for place / situation / position.
Second: Footbal divides many balls (long passes) and they may fight those ownerless balls (jumping, using hands to protect the position, etc) and run long distances.
Third: They have preparated phisical trainers in all clubs, not only at top ones.
And fourth: Football competitions are better both in quality and quantity.
So, ¿what we may do for getting phisically stronger futsal players? ¿in which point would you pay more attention and which one would you discard?
I think again the main differences between futsal and football players, in this case physical attributes, is due to the main difference in the characteristic of the games. This is the space available in the respective sports.
Everybody is just a product of the environment that surrounds them. Anyone who is successful is adapted to their environment. See the person and you can see their environment and vice versa.
The small dimensions of the playing area and distance from the opponent's goal in futsal means you only need to gain 0.5 of a meter to gain the advantage needed. Therefore acceleration and change of direction are crucial physical skills required. A player with a low centre of gravity and is lighter has an advantage.
However in futsal I think it is very important to be strong to be able to shield the ball. The close proximity means upper body strength is vital. However, as you say there is no real aerial duels in futsal, so carrying extra weight through being taller is disadvantageous.
We do have strong and tall players in futsal such as Schumacher and Torras. But they are still able to accelerate quickly and change direction rapidly otherwise I don't think they would succeed in futsal. I would even argue players such as Betao (93kg at 2008 World Cup) and Fernandao are quick and sharp over 2-3m.
This goes back nicely to the argument in the post. FC Barcelona are playing very compact and they are using many smaller and lighter players unlike other teams who play in a different style (see Stoke in England with a direct and aerial style using players only over 1.85m). This demonstrates that for working with less space and mainly ground passes these types of players are more suitable.
I think you're 3rd argument is valid about physical trainers. I worked at Man City Academy and the youth players had a strength coach and were in the gym almost everyday. Further the professionalism in football means their players are training every day, both at youth and senior level, which helps them develop physically.
With regard to your 4th point I think that physical qualities are important in any sport. As football is the most financially rewarding and popular sport (outside the US) the children with the best physical qualities will be directed to play football and then learn the sport specific skills.
I don't think we necessarily need futsal players that are physically stronger. Everything is relative. If you have excellent technique and intelligence you can offset for weakness in physique. Just as physical qualities can offset for weaknesses in other areas.
Look forward to hearing your view on these points.
I would like to say this is a good article by yourself doug, as many of the thoughts you have put down, ring true to my own feelings on the development of a more technically skilled English game/players and the ongoing obsession with producing an English player that scores 80 goals per calender year (a next messi/Ronaldo etc). I am new to futsal as a player and I am about to try out for my city side in Coventry, so the best of luck permitted, you may very well see me soon, but I would like to know how many people actualy realise that before the game of football was even invented, it was a game similar to a form of futsal that was being played first, in China. Which was then later developed into the more physical 'football', but still using the half cicle curved goals, that had been introduced in the first form of the futsal game, played by the Chinese, only later on being changed to rectangles. My point is that to excell in the future of something you must first know its history. As for letting kids decide and whether they enjoy it, all that comes from trial and error anyway, you see the top players and the the not so prolific, every season, missing a shot or falling over and brushing theirself off and producing a smile to a team mate, there are kids and adults playing 11-aside football under so much pressure, that they're forgetting to enjoy, so whats the difference anyway, if your going to become good at anything, your going have to learn how to enjoy. It is a mixture of Wisdom (appreciation for history, approach to life as well as your chosen sport/s, realisitic goals and the seizure of possible opportunities and the ability to know the difference), Ethical conduct (Good attitude & temperment, trying to enjoy what you do) and Concentration (doing what you do, increasing your capacity for what you do through development). I know my spelling isnt great, my apologies, but I know how to play and I truly beleive a large amount of my capacity for the sport, is granted from my appreciation of its heritage, the fact I accept I am always learning or setting an example and my ability to brush myself off and carry on. So yes, futsal should be compulsory in England as a future development of the 11-aside game and also for people who wish to stick with it, but with the current Football World Cup approaching in Brasil, I only feel that it should of been introduced 20/30 years ago and then that three lions badge would at least a few more little gold stars above it I think.
Thanks Jason. Very passionate
One of the things you wrote is very important. You said "if your going to become good at anything, your going have to learn how to enjoy". I agree 100%, you have to enjoy something to get good at it. And also why would you want to get good and spend on something you don´t enjoy. If a child loves table tennis then they should play that, if it is football they like then do that but don´t something because you think there is some external reward at the end.