The FA is finally embracing futsal, with the game growing on these shores and clubs implementing it into their academies
The passing was crisp and incisive, the movement restlessly purposeful; the relentless pace of the game and ambitious dribbling on show were yielding goalscoring opportunities continuously. It was, by common consent, a feast of technical excellence, gladdening the heart of anyone keen to witness controlled creativity on a pitch.
This was last weekend – but the venue was not the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, where Andrés Iniesta and the tiki-taka brigade were pulversing Andrea Pirlo’s Italy in the Euro 2012 final. It was 1,600 miles away in the Birmingham FutsalArena, where a bunch of 10-year-olds from East Hull Saints were up against Whiteknights Toffees from Reading in the national youth futsal finals.
They were among the 80 junior futsal teams – boys and girls aged 10 to 16 – who had qualified for the finals of the sixth annual tournament of the booming football offshoot.
Born in Uruguay in 1930, futsal is the indoor version of five-a-side football officially sanctioned by Fifa and Uefa and has become synonymous with Brazilian flair – from Pelé to Ronaldinho’s dancing toe-poke goal against Chelsea in 2005. More recently, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and the Spanish rondo matadors have all paid tribute to the beneficial effects of playing futsal in their youth.
The merits of the game itself are undeniable. It’s five-a-side on amphetamines, played on an indoor court with hockey-size goals. Goalkeepers and players taking corners and kick-ins get only four seconds to distribute the ball. Technique, speed, ball mastery and possession are all vital.
The English FA is, unsurprisingly, a latecomer to the party; but now that it has turned up, kicked off its Dr Martens and hung up its duffle coat, it’s actually starting to get down to the samba beat.
This year’s national youth futsal tournament was easily the biggest in its brief six-year history. More than 1,200 teams were whittled down through 25 county FA competitions and eight regional finals. Played against the backdrop of the latest biennial outburst of introspection triggered by the England team’s display in an international tournament, the timing of the finals in Birmingham was particularly apt.
“The growth of futsal fits perfectly with the way that our new developments around the young player are going,” said Peter Sturgess, the FA‘s head of development for 5- to 11-year-old players, who doubles up as coach of the England men’s futsal team. “The planets are aligning and futsal has come on to the radar just as there is a real focus on technical development, possession-based games, real game understanding and tactical nous. I think the two – technical development and futsal – go hand in hand,” he added.
The usual culprits for English football’s failings have been brought before the court yet again in the past 10 days. At the top of the game, it’s either the lingering influence of the Charles Hughes POMO obsession of yesteryear, or the similarly prevalent tactical straitjacket of 4-4-2, or the Premier League clubs’ obsession with foreign imports snuffing out the chances of homegrown prodigies.
Down at the grassroots it’s either too few decent grass pitches and the foul weather; or the army of grassroots parents and “coaches” bludgeoning eight-year-olds into winning at all costs, or too few qualified, progressive coachesworking with young players, or too little funding for Charter Standard clubs. And don’t forget the socially and culturally complicated demise of street football over the past 30 years.
The one aspect that appears to be changing, however, is the FA’s acceptance of a need for a revolution in coaching youth footballers. Two years ago we had the publication of the Future Game, an imperfect template for development of players that contains much to admire but arguably lacks a philosophical paradigm. A year earlier the FA launched its Youth Awards to end the embarrassing absence of age-appropriate, child-centred coach education.
Then six weeks ago the long-awaited proposals to overhaul grassroots football – smaller pitches, smaller-sided games, child-centred competition – were approved in an attempt to dispense with the obsession with winning at the expense of development in youth football. And, of course, we’ve got the symbolism of the imminent opening of St George’s Park, the putative crucible of training for a new generation of progressive coaches.
It’s not just at the grassroots where smaller-sided games have made an impression. A pioneering year-long study of the benefits of four v four games at Manchester United’s academy in 2005 revealed it threw up many more opportunities for dribbling, passing, one v ones and goalscoring.
The Premier League clubs now include futsal in their winter games programme for academy players. Everton’s academy began experimenting with it at the start of last season. After initially playing on indoor artificial grass pitches at their Finch Farm training complex, they decided to fully embrace the game.
“We really wanted to do it properly,” said Neil Dewsnip, the head coach at Everton’s academy. “So we contacted a local school and now once a week, we take our Under-nines, Under-10s and Under-11s over to the school hall and let them play futsal. We have a futsal player, Ray Redmond, who coaches them. And it’s a case of putting them on the pitch with a futsal ball, telling them the rules and letting them get on and play. We’ll do a few futsal-specific drills but essentially it’s playing time.
“It really slides in nicely to their games programme and we believe it can improve the allround technical ability of our players. It’s played at such a high tempo that every player is constantly engaged. This can only be good for their development.”
Everton were among the five English clubs whose academy teams reached the finals of the Premier League futsal tournament, where they took on the might of Barcelona and the renowned Madrid-based futsal club Inter Movistar.Manchester City triumphed in the Under-12s competition. Barcelona clinched the Under-15s title.
Back down at the grassroots, many Charter Standard clubs will cite the burden of extra cost and lack of indoor facilities as barriers to fully embracing futsal. For Sturgess at the FA, however, the case for more indoor futsal is unequivocal because it wins on two counts: technical development and the weather.
“A typical seven-year-old doesn’t have the biological or physiological capacity to deal with extremes of heat and cold,” he said. “So bringing them indoors to a fairly even temperature works. From a technical point of view, they are going to get so many more touches of the ball. But it’s not just the number of touches, it’s the situations they occur in: they are nearly always going to be under pressure; there will always be constraints on time and space.
“Grassroots junior clubs are increasingly taking kids indoors so their football development can continue in the winter months,” he said. “Futsal is the vehicle for this change.”
The scale of these changes are difficult to estimate. In the world of FA coaching, another development over the past few years has been the rise of the buzz phrase: “Let the game be the teacher.”
The message is clear, the practical implications less so. But while the FA tries to get to grips with educating a new generation of coaches, it could do much worse than ensure that as many young players as possible are left in the capable hands of the great teacher of Ronaldo, Messi, Iniesta and more…
Original Article - http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2012/jul/05/futsal-england-next-generation
Comments are closed.