Futsal is growing worldwide unsurprisingly given its positive influence on football, more countries than ever are playing the sport, with FIFA describing it as the "fastest growing indoor sport in the world."
Futsal is commonly regarded as the reason English footballers lack the technique and aptitude of their South American and even European counterparts. It’s a game suited to quick possession passing with an emphasis on creativity and flair which would convince a lot of people that futsal is a game for the hipster. Well, that intertwined with the fact that it isn't played by the masses here yet. For some reason having reached the shores of England officially in 2003, the game hasn't really caught on as first anticipated. But this could all be about to change if futsal is introduced to the 2020 Olympics, having been disappointingly shunned for Rio 2016.
The game itself was established in Uruguay in 1930 and the rules are simple. Its 5 a side, with ball is slightly smaller and heavier than a tradition football, the goals are hockey goals and the dimensions of the pitch are small to say the least. To create a constant style of play, there are only "kick ins" rather than throw ins and players and goalkeepers have to take these within 4 seconds. There is a strict policy forbidding slide tackles, but other than that any normal physical contact between players is fine. The rules set the scene for a battle of technical ability and craft with the lack of space forcing players to be intelligent with possession, encouraging dribbling round the opposition or for the player to envision a creative pass they wouldn't usually play in any average game of football. It’s a game that constantly has the players involved and touching the ball. The sport is commonly perceived as a training tool for youth players but thanks to growth of the game globally, there are now professional leagues and international competition.
Players from the most successful futsal nations often started playing the sport from a very early age and, in a lot of cases, solely play futsal, leaving the 11 a side game until after the age of ten. The top three futsal teams in the world are Brazil, Spain and Italy. Brazil have been a dominant force in 11 a side football for years. Spain, the current world champions faced Italy in the finals of the Euro's in the summer just gone. Could it be that playing futsal from a young age has honed these footballers technique making them the greats of our generation? There seems to be a correlation between futsal and success in football.
The sport comes with its own seal of approval and is endorsed by the biggest and best footballers in the world, Messi and Ronaldo recognise how futsal has contributed to making them the well-rounded players they are today. David Villa played futsal until the age of 9, such is and he still plays with friends now. Villa says "Futsal is a bit more technical than football. I also think that because you play a shorter amount of time, there are different physical requirements, because you need to run constantly." In fact, the style in which Barcelona play has drawn comparisons to futsal, Villa accepts this observation, "especially when attacking with all those short passes between many players, handling the ball well and keeping a lot of possession." Falcao, not the long haired Columbian who leads the line for Athletico Madrid and is setting La Liga on fire with his goalscoring, but Brazilian Falcao, a legend of the game, recently scored a goal that made its way on to footballing websites around the world. It can only be described as an audacious flick from a laid off free kick, much to the astonishment of the players around him. This type of publicity will only help the sport to grow.
Doug Reed plays futsal for the England national team, playing for a professional futsal club in Serbia where he can train 7 days a week as opposed to two which he did previously at the Manchester Futsal Club. He believes the sport is growing and will continue to do so, "futsal is already established in many parts of the world such as Southern and Eastern Europe and South America. In other places it is growing strongly, noticeably in Asia and Northern Europe. It is already one of the most popular sports worldwide for participation levels. Now it needs to grow in its professionalism and organisation." Reed conceives that in the UK there is very little awareness for futsal. The FA have recognised this and are determined to change this, they have developed the National Futsal League, Youth Futsal Festival, Under 18's Futsal Championships and a few other projects that are now coinciding with each other. With millions of pounds currently invested in the sport in England in order to open 15 new indoor clubs across the country over the next 2 to 3 years the future is bright for futsal.
English football is evolving, the days of brutish defenders is no more, tackling has been forced out of the game and the emphasis has shifted to intercepting and pressure instead. For the most part football clubs in England would only promote youth team players based on their size and strength, however now small technical players are thriving in the Premier League but they tend to be the foreign imports, such as Juan Mata, David Silva and Santi Cazorla. With this in mind futsal is the game required to help English players nurture their technical ability, to bridge the game between them and the leading International teams. For English football it is essential that futsal catches on in order for the sport to be played at a professional level and compete with the likes of Brazil and Spain. It is now recognised as vital in the development of the modern day footballer. The Olympics in 2020 could well be the stage that the sport requires to gain that extra popularity to reach extreme heights.
You can follow Doug Reed and how the England Futsal team are performing on Doug’s Twitter @dougreedfutsal