Courtesy: The GuardianPortugal futsal kings follow Ronaldo’s lead and offer lessons for England
Jorge Braz, head coach of Portugal’s Euro 2018 winning side, has plenty of good advice for the English FA to popularise the game
There are no magic recipes,” declares Jorge Braz, head coach of Portugal’s futsal Euro 2018 winning team. Maybe not but certain ingredients can be familiarly potent: two European behemoths slugging it out for glory, the standout superstar forced off with injury, momentarily crushing the belief of Portugal’s Seleção, only for the team to regroup and wilfully, skilfully snatch a first European title.
Portugal’s futsal squad repeated the exploits of the 11-a-side national team to make history in the small-sided game in February in Slovenia, edging out the serial Euro champions Spain.
The preened prowess of Cristiano Ronaldo was not in the house. This was all about the team that rotate effortlessly around the majestic Ricardinho, the five-times futsal world player of the year nicknamed O Mágico (the magician). Like Ronaldo in the Euro 2016 final against France, Ricardinho hobbled off injured in the biggest game of his international career.
“It was our moment,” recalls the calm and inspirational Braz. “We always believed it was going to fall our way.”
Speaking to the Guardian at a recent English Football Association futsal conference at St George’s Park, Braz recalls the achievement. “It’s very curious that it happened almost the same way,” he says. “But at that moment I don’t remember [the Ronaldo 2016 incident]. I was thinking of so much in the match; I was extremely confident with the team. We worked very hard to be prepared. The hero here was the team.”
It is this ruthless attention to detail and preparation that earned Braz an invitation by the FA to showcase his experience to 250 coaches alongside various FA futsal and football coaches and Marc Carmona, the head of coach education at Barcelona.
Portugal’s first Euro futsal title caps a remarkable wider football hat‑trick – after the football Euros in 2016 and the Fifa Beach Soccer World Cup victory in 2015 – and is testament to a recent overhaul of youth participation in futsal and national team selection (more chances for homegrown players rather than naturalised Brazilians) by the Portuguese Football Federation.
Although Portugal is a relative youngster in the world of futsal – “We have only 30 years of futsal … it is nothing,” says Braz – England could be said to be still learning how to walk. But the FA has finally – after a stuttering decade-long partial embrace of the Fifa-sanctioned version of five-a-side – made futsal one of the four pathways in its National Game Strategy.
Mike Skubala, the FA’s futsal elite performance manager and England head coach, told the conference it was a “landmark moment”. He wants to build participation “from the bottom up” and eventually create a “twin-track” system whereby children play futsal and football at primary school age before specialising, as happens in Spain, Portugal and Brazil (where it is estimated that more people play futsal than football).
The health and wellbeing benefits of more children playing more sport in school are undeniable. It is seen as a game in its own right – with adult teams (all non‑professional) in 10 national leagues, six male and four female, and a thriving university league culture – but it is as a development tool for young footballers that it is gaining real traction.
Braz’s coaching masterclass at St George’s Park, working with the new England under-19s squad, focused on attacking one against ones and echoed many of the messages at the heart of the England DNA about bravery and ball mastery. “How can you create space to take advantage?” was a constant question to players. “Accelerate the ball”; “Go forward, take the advantage!”
Braz believes England is on to something with its push to build mass participation in futsal and perhaps alter the DNA of tomorrow’s elite footballer.
“There are no magic recipes,” he cautions. “Every country must build their own way. It’s about creating opportunities for everyone [to play].”
But England has a few natural “advantages” (he likes this theme): the foul weather, the stirring passion for football and the Premier League riches. “Because of your climate, your strong winter, you have the necessity to play a lot of indoor. Futsal can give you a lot.
“The English player has a lot of strength, is becoming more and more coordinated and technical. Futsal can give that. If that is a problem, that for so many years they say that English players are not so technical – like the Portuguese or Brazilian – then futsal can improve that a lot. You have to put some programmes in with the younger ages.”
Schools and county FAs – “It’s our main interest in Portugal” – are crucial in building participation, he says. “We wanted to make futsal a very important sport in Portugal, with a lot of social relevance,” he explains. In 2011 the Portuguese Football Federation set out to make futsal “the most popular sport in school sports halls”.
But the Premier League football clubs, many of whom have adopted futsal into their academy games programme, could also hold the key.
“It’s another way, an elite way of going. England has so many passions for football, it’s a massive opportunity. If Liverpool, Everton, Manchester [clubs], if they have futsal squads, if it develops a little bit – OK you have to have good players and a good level for competition to be good – but that’s what happened in Portugal. Benfica v Sporting in futsal? That is crazy. Everyone wants to watch, everyone wants to go.”
Skubala agrees. Premier League interest in setting up futsal clubs can only be a positive, he says. Besides, the clubs have a “corporate social responsibility” to offer alternatives for players released in their teens, he says. “It’s exactly what Barcelona do,” he says. “For a few million quid a year, they could have another professional unit for these kids to go into.
“There is a corporate social responsibility for top-level clubs on how they keep kids in their club, when they’ve been in the professional game. So when they release players age 16, 17, 18, can they release them into another professional programme in the club, rather than dropping them out?”
Back at the grassroots Skubala’s vision – like Braz’s in Portugal – is to overcome the problems of access and cost of indoor facilities. “We need to accept that. But we’re trying to build from the bottom up in the schools system … It doesn’t mean we’ll change the culture overnight but it’s a big step in the right direction.”FP Staff