THE FUTURE IS FUTSAL – Laying the foundation for football success?
Tentative steps were made some years ago by entrepreneurial coaches to introduce “Brazilian-style” soccer schools to these shores. The promise of developing the silky samba-infused skills of the likes of Pele and Zico was often advertised in the classifieds of publications such as the now-defunct “90 Minutes.”
Based around the small-sided game of Futsal and a specially weighted ball, the emphasis was placed firmly on the passing game and making players comfortable with the ball at their feet.
Fast-forward a couple of decades and “Futsal” now boasts a firmly established, FA-backed elite league system and is growing in popularity year upon year in the UK. Recent figures show that participation in the sport has grown overall by 43% since 2011. The most impressive statistic being that of youth participation, which has grown by 60%.
Last weekend saw the FA National Futsal League (divisional) campaigns draw to a close. The top tier of the game is divided into three regional divisions of eight clubs each—North, South and Midlands.
The top four at the end of the regular season go into a “Super League,” which precedes a “Grand Finals” day.
An exciting climax was in store in the Northern division as Manchester Futsal Club hosted Sheffield Futsal Club at the National Cycling Centre. Occupying first and second place respectively, Manchester had yet to lose a game this season. Sheffield were just a point behind them. The winner of the match would take the Northern title.
Chris Wildgoose, Head of Media at Manchester Futsal Club was kind enough to answer a few questions about his club’s setup and the sport in general.
Firstly, Chris explained the Super League system that follows the regular season.
“The way that the Super League works is that the top four teams from the North, Midlands and South leagues all qualify and are then put into four groups of three. All teams play one another twice, with the winners of the four groups progressing to the Grand Finals, which will be held at St. George’s Park.
“Obviously this is an added incentive for all of the players because it’s such a high-quality facility and the England football team train here too. In addition to playing at St. George’s Park, the overall winners are crowned English champions and will go into next season’s UEFA Futsal Cup preliminary draw.”
Futsal formed as a small-sided version of football thanks to the limited spaces available to play football in Brazil and Uruguay. The first rules of the sport were drawn up in 1936. The name is a compound of the words Futbol and Sala—literally, Football Hall.
Using a smaller and slightly heavier ball, Futsal is played to touchlines with kick-ins, rather than bounce-boards or walls. Games are split into two 20 minute halves timed on a stop-clock system, rather like basketball. To keep up the tempo of the game, if the ball goes out of play, the clock stops and the team has four seconds to restart play once the ball is on the line or risk losing possession.
Goalkeepers are allowed out of their area and can also operate in the fly ‘keeper role if the team is chasing the game.
An interesting rule is that if a team commits more than five fouls in a half, the opposition is awarded a free hit from ten metres.
At the highest level, Futsal is a very tactical game. Choreographed attacking moves are worked on and played out to a backdrop of a timeout being allowed in each half and rolling substitutions–again, much like basketball. Some sides have been know to replace all the on-field players at once in order to perform specific moves.
For a long time, Futsal evangelists have extolled the virtues of the sport. After all, it has reputedly helped hone the skills of the likes of Pele, Zico, Kaka, Messi, Xavi and Cristiano Ronaldo. It is clear from that list of players alone that the game must play some part in helping create more technically able footballers, rather than rely on a show of brute strength.
On their website, the FA insists that their focus will always remain the 11-a-side game, but they do back Futsal and it is clear that they also believe it could be of great benefit, particularly to the developing player. Chris agreed: “You only have to look at the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robinho, Ronaldinho and Pele to get an idea of the kind of impact playing futsal can have on your technical skills.
“South American players practically grow up on a futsal court—as do the Spanish—and the way they are able to manipulate the ball and keep possession is phenomenal.
“Barcelona are a perfect example of how futsal can benefit not just a player but an 11-a-side team too. The core of Barcelona’s team all played futsal and the way they can pass and move is incredible and the belief is that futsal played a major part in developing these players. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bayern Munich are playing futsal now Pep Guardiola is in charge. They were amazing last season, but this year they look even better so futsal could be the key.”
Do you think that all professional football clubs could benefit from Futsal’s rise in popularity?
“Futsal needs to be introduced at professional football clubs in England because, as a footballing nation, we’re streets behind our South American and European counterparts. English players don’t seem to have that sort of confidence on the ball that the Brazilians, Argentines and Spanish have on the ball. These nations are all able to dictate the tempo of play and eventually punish you with precise passing.”
Manchester Futsal Club plays an important role in developing youth players, can you tell us how?
“In terms of our projects, we have Development Centres and Youth Futsal Training Camps which both launched in 2012. These are very popular sessions and we currently have four centres running in the Greater Manchester area aimed at 8-12 year olds and another Centre for 5-7 year olds, while the Camps tend to run every half term.”
“The coaches instil our philosophy in order to encourage more ball retention and developing skills in confined spaces. Our long term aim is to ensure that the Club has a continuous stream of players coming through the academy and making a seamless transition into the first team over the coming years.”
But MFC’s projects don’t end there…
“The Club also runs the Manchester FA Futsal Fives league, which is aimed at adults of all ages. We are the only national league club to have an FA Futsal Fives license, so there’s a lot that we can offer in the Greater Manchester area.
“There are two men’s leagues and one women’s league – the women’s league is the first ever league to be run in Greater Manchester, so this has been another positive step forward for the club.
“In addition to the three FA Futsal Fives leagues that we run, we are set to launch a league aimed specifically at players aged 14-16 in May, again in order to boost involvement and potentially bring some players into our under-18 squad.
“Running these leagues enables us to get more people involved in futsal, puts the Club on the map and helps us to boost attendances at home games, which, for an amateur club, is essential.”
Talking of attendances, what can the spectator expect at a Futsal match?
“You can expect a quick tempo and lots of goals. I’d be shocked if I ever saw a 0-0 in Futsal, especially at this level. It just doesn’t happen.”
As if to specifically outline Chris’s thoughts, in what ought to have been a tense encounter at the National Cycling Centre, Manchester Futsal Club ran out comfortable 6-0 winners against Sheffield FC.
“Our game against Sheffield was a fantastic performance from the players.
“There was a subplot to the game. Not only did Sheffield win at the National Cycling Centre 4-2 last season to become champions, but their Head Coach (Daniel Berdejo-del-Fresno) used to be our Strength and Conditioning Coach when we won the league two seasons ago!
“Overall, it has been a magnificent campaign for Manchester – they made history by becoming the first team to go an entire season unbeaten, conceded the fewest goals (18) in the league’s history and also kept the most clean sheets in league history.”
Futsal is booming at the moment. There is an exciting and vibrant national league set-up, a burgeoning youth system, and many new clubs or teams are springing up around the country all the time.
Perhaps those promises made yesteryear by the Brazilian soccer school start-ups will finally be made good—and Futsal can help provide the next generation of technically gifted English players?
Many thanks to Chris Wildgoose, Head of Media at Manchester Futsal Club for his assistance with this article.
More information on Manchester Futsal Club can be found at: www.manchesterfutsal.com
MFC’s Super League fixtures begin on 6th April against Birmingham and they are also running a half-term Futsal Camp at the National Cycling Centre.