Football on Another Level

Ever wondered what it is that sets players such as Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho apart from the rest? Why their touch is so instant, their passing so precise and their movement so quick and agile? With the UEFA Euro 2012 final taking place this weekend between Russia and five-time champions Spain, Harry Maidment writes the answer lies largely in their development as young footballers and their steady diet of Futbol Sala or Futsal as it’s more widely known.

Futsal is a five-a-side game, normally played indoor with hockey sized goals and a size 4 ball with a reduced bounce. The difference between standard English five-a-side is the lack of rebound boards and the way it encourages skilful creative play. The nature of the game places large emphasis on technical skill and ability under situations of high pressure.

Much has been talked about how many of the top Brazilian players past and present honed their skills on the streets as young boys, but the beaches and alleys of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and other cities were home to the game that made them footballers. It is not just South Americans. Many European players now performing for Europe’s top clubs also owe a lot to the game.  It is no coincidence that Barcelona’s current midfield made up of Xavi, Iniesta, and Fabregas possess much the same capabilities and attributes. This is purely down to following the same developmental process as young aspiring footballers.

Daniel Coyle in The Talent Code offers an explanation as to why these players develop the way they do.

Futsal players touch the ball six times more often per minute than in standard football. Sharp passing is paramount: the game is all about looking for angles and spaces and working quick combinations with other players. Ball control and vision are crucial, so that when futsal players play a full-sized game they feel they have acres of space in which to operate.”

Consider this statement and picture the way Spain play their football. Their 11-a-side game is the epitome of perfect futsal. Think how many times each player will touch the ball as they build their attack. Their passing is immaculate, and they are unafraid to play the ball to a player into a tight space with three opponents around them. The sharp interchanges around the opposition’s 18 yard box can be frightening to watch at times, blink and you’ve missed it.

Sadly this sort of play is rarely present in England and Ireland. We have players capable of producing similar quality, as most would agree, but the fluidity of movement, passing and touch is all too disjointed. So where have we gone wrong? Our players have obviously not endured the same developmental process as the Spanish or Brazilian teams.

English and Irish players have not grown up in countries where this style of football has long been the norm. The South Americans as well as the Spanish and Portuguese knew no different and considered this was just how you played the game. England is the country that invented the beautiful game but as a nation it has been left behind. Ireland sends her best player cross-channel to learn their trade and has long been called a ‘British-style’ team.  Still there is hope.

The game of futsal is not a new concept, it was created in 1930 but for the English FA it has only been present since 2004 when the FA Futsal Cup was established, while the National Futsal Leagues took a further four years to get going.

Futsal Ireland administrate the game here and the inaugural Emerald Futsal League in Leinster kicked off in 2009. League of Ireland clubs participate in the Airtricity Futsal league since 2008.

EID Futsal Dublin are the reigning FAI Cup champions and will represent Ireland at the UEFA Futsal Cup.

Futsal Ireland’s executive director is UEFA A licenced coach and well-known sports writer Stephen Finn while Brazilian Junior Da Silva is the Futsal Ireland Academy coach and has trained the Republic of Ireland national futsal side.

Although their reactions have been delayed, the FA’s in England and Ireland are finally beginning to take notice. I believe the implementation of the Futsal philopsophy into grassroots football will only have a positive effect on football development.

There’s no reason why the national teams in Britain and Ireland cannot harvest the easy-on-the-eye football which other countries produce. It is all too easy to sit back and accept that our inferiority is simply down to other teams boasting superior players.  If we can master a technique that has proven to aid the production of top players then we can both contest at the top once again.

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