20 December, 2007

Youngsters + Futsal = An English Ronaldinho?

For those of you not in the know, Futsal is a 5-a-side game played on a basketball-sized pitch using a weighted ball, with the emphasis placed on improvisation, creativity and technique rather than fitness and physicality. Not dissimilar from those awesome Nike Scorpio adverts from the 2002 World Cup, Futsal is prevalent throughout Brazil, Portugal, Italy and Spain especially, with such luminaries as Christano Ronaldo and Deco citing the skill-centric game as a major part of making them the players they are today.

Excuse the shit music / epilepsy-inducing flashes and check some examples of it here:

Is it a coincidence that those aforementioned countries just happen to do so well in the professional FIFA world rankings as well then? England’s senior Futsal team on the other hand has won, I kid you not, just 1 game out of 46, and recently suffered a 6 – 3 drumming by Andorra. Sound familiar? Coach Graeme Bell has stated to the BBC that this statistic is representative of the wider problems associated with English football in general, especially the manner in which players are coached at youth level. Flair is outlawed as being ‘too risky,’ while the emphasis is placed on being ‘competitive’ and ‘hard to beat.’ Crunching tackles and hoofing the ball upfield have no place in futsal however. Using my footballing idol as an example, Zinedine Zidane once famously said he felt fortunate to have played football on the streets of Marseille until the age of 14, meaning that no-one had the chance to coach skill and improvisation out of him.

When you look at how composed young foreign players (Fabregas and Messi are prime examples) are on the ball compared to our lot, the chasm is almost insurmountable. Bell continued: “Players find it challenging because space is at a premium on a futsal court, the ball has to be manipulated far more closely to the body. Players also have to do clever things with the ball and their foot skills improve. There is no hiding place on the court, so decision making is absolutely paramount.” Does that not sound exactly like what our national side needs more than anything?

Trying to think of current homegrown players who have what anyone outside of this country would call ‘skill’ is tough. Looking through Premier League squads, few names jump out, with Joe Cole, Wayne Rooney and David Bentley the only ones that really resonate. I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw an English player do a great trick during a game, and wanted to try and replicate it myself. It simply does not happen anymore because our young wingers and strikers are being discouraged to take defenders on. Even foreign wingbacks, such as Patrice Evra and Juliano Belletti to name just two in our league, are able to beat people for fun and are certainly not afraid to do it on the big stage. Our so-called world class players however, are praised for their strength and commitment, rather than for any genuine footballing ability. From a pure entertainment perspective, our league may to the fastest in the world, but without the foreigners, it would undoubtedly be the most boring by a considerable distance.

Graeme Bell concludes ominously: “Unless we start bringing the futsal concepts to the way in which we train young players, we could be having this conversation again in 15 to 20 years' time.”