England U-21s failure at the European Championships points to a bleak future for our national team but Manchester Futsal Club offers fresh hope.
What do Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Andres Iniesta and Xavi all have in common – apart from being world class footballers?
The answer is they all grew up playing futsal, a small-sided version of football that is increasingly being seen as the way for England’s young players to reduce the yawning technical gap between themselves and the world’s best.
And now an ambitious local team – Manchester Futsal Club (MFC) – is doing its bit to bring more samba skills to our region’s sports halls and playing fields.
For all the millions poured into the game by the FA, for all the boasting that the Premier League is the envy of the world, the state of the national team is as parlous as ever.
Roy Hodgson’s senior side are sweating on qualification for Brazil 2014, trailing Montenegro in Group H, although they should make it to the finals with three of the remaining four games at Wembley.
More concerning is the plight of the Under-21s. Despite impressive form going into the European Championships, successive defeats to Italy, Norway and Israel underlined the impression that England are trailing well behind their international rivals at every level. Stuart Pearce has paid the price for that performance with his job.
What is most noticeable is the difference in technical skills. The passing, possession play so brilliantly espoused by Barcelona and Spain still seems beyond England.
The game of futsal could be a reason behind that – and a way to solve the problem.
MFC chairman Simon Wright, whose side has already gained recognition from City, said: “If you contrast what’s happend in England to Brazil and Spain, all the kids there play futsal until they are 12 years old. Xavi and Iniesta built their game on futsal.
“Barcelona are a multi sport club, they have futsal team and it’s part of their technical programme.
“In England it’s a case of there needing to be a culture shift. There has been 150 years of football, it’s our game after all.”
Futsal: What they said
Lionel Messi: “In Argentina, when I was a young boy, I used to play a lot of futsal on the street and with Newell’s Old Boys. It was a really fun game that’s helped me a great deal.”
Cristiano Ronaldo: “In Portugal, all we played growing up was futsal. The smaller court helped my footwork skills, the nature of the game made me feel so free when I played. If it wasn’t for futsal, I would definitely not be the player I am today.”
Xavi: “In normal football you don’t necessarily identify talent as easily because it’s so much more physical. But with futsal, you notice the small details in quality, class and tactical understanding.”
Futsal is an indoor game, with five players a side and a smaller, heavier ball is used. There are rolling substitutes, kick-ins and each half is 20 minutes long, but with the clock stopped every time the ball goes out a half often takes longer.
Wright said: “Players need to be able to concentrate because it is an intense game with lots of set plays. It’s not overly physical but it’s very competitive with the focus on keeping possession.
“The ball is size four and it’s a lot heavier, so it has 20 per cent less bounce, it grips the court. That means it is played more on the ground. There is no head height rule but you tend to see flick passes, a common feature of Brazilian footballers’ play.
“The toe poke is a common way of shooting. Ronaldinho’s toe poke against Chelsea in the Champions League a few years ago was a futsal technique.
“There’s more ball manipulation, lots on sole-of-the-foot contol, which you see Ronaldo do a lot. When English kids are taught to control the ball they have traditionally been taught not to control with the sole of the foot.”
City target Isco’s stunning goal in the Euro Under-21s Championship semi-final was another good example of futsal technique. He controlled the ball with the sole of his foot before toe-poking it into the roof of the net with lightning speed.
With such a strong Spanish influence at City now, MFC are building positive relations at the Etihad, having recently played a legends game at the Velodrome in front of new EDS boss Patrick Vieira.
“The club have been doing some good partnership work with City,” Wright added. “A lot of the people they’ve got in now were there when Barca were developing their futsal.
“We want to work progressively with City and they can see the value. Vieira was very complimentary. The City legends game was a really good showcase.”
Although introducing kids to futsal is seen as a way of improving their football technique, the small sided game is a sport in its own right.
MFC’s Stuart Cook and Ross Bond – a skills coach at City – are in the England futsal squad having impressed at club level.
Wright added: “We have a first team squad of 18, an under 18s team. We have three development centres focused on 8-12 year-olds, giving the opportunities to Manchester kids to play futsal.
“It can support player development in football but it’s a sport in its own right. All the pathways there for football are there for futsal.”
:: MFC have three Futsal Development Centres across Greater Manchester that are working with 8-12 years olds on a weekly basis. All run over the weekend.
Locations: Stretford Sports Village, Newall Green High School, Levenshulme High School
Any parents interested should contact the club on email@example.com
Source Manchester Evening News 20 Jun 2013