Over the last year there has been one word on the lips of youth coaches up and down the country: futsal. The recent successes of Spain’s tiki-taka style – based around the fundamentals of futsal, along with the long association between Brazilian flair and futsal, and endorsements from football superstars such as Pele, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Neymar have seen coaches grab futsal as a developmental tool for football. Who can blame them?
In a game of futsal players receive a much greater proportion of time on the ball, improving their passing, close control and dribbling, and the smaller areas that they are forced to play in improves their ability to play under pressure in tight areas. Furthermore, the sport provides a perfect platform for players to express themselves, celebrating creativity and allowing for players to make mistakes.
Despite this, there is not a great deal of understanding of futsal in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Many rubbish it as five-a-side without the head-height rule; a cardinal sin in the eyes of futsal fanatics. As such, there are many cases where coaches use the sport in a similar vein to five-a-side football, limiting the beneficial impact it can have on players.
This understanding has not been aided by a media reluctant to give the sport much attention. Traditionally futsal coverage has been limited to major World and European tournaments covered by commentators unfamiliar with the sport. The current European Championships, however, have changed this trend. Eurosport, who are covering every game in the tournament, have enlisted England assistant coach Michael Skubala to commentate on the games and provide futsal-specific insight.
Despite his inexperience in the commentary box, Skubala has been a resounding success. Rather than the generic commentary of previous tournaments, Skubala’s voice has almost acted as a coaching guide, discussing the usefulness of toe pokes, wall passes, the high press, fly keepers, and threes rotations in games. And it seems the viewers can’t get enough.
Skubala’s input has received a vast array of positive feedback from people eager to understand the game better after discovering the intricacies of the wall pass and the scoop. Skubala’s Twitter account has been bombarded by people filled with praise and enthusiasm for the sport, and he believes that this enthusiasm for futsal specific information can lead to television companies warming to futsal. ‘Futsal is a great sport for broadcasters’, he commented, ‘and the fact that many first-time viewers, as well as the futsal family, are giving such positive feedback can only encourage broadcasters to air more futsal’.
The tournament itself has been a great success for British Eurosport. ‘Its been great both in terms of excitement and tactics. I feel that Russia can end Spain’s dominance, and I’d back them to win the tournament’, Skubala stated. ‘I’ve been really impressed with a number of players. Obviously Ricardinho from Portugal is an exceptional player, but there have also been a number of less well-known performers who have impressed: Russia’s Brazilian-born Edar Lima, Croatia’s Marinovic, and Slovenia’s captain Igor Osredkar’.
It is the last of these who will have been most familiar to Skubala, whose England side missed out on qualification to the tournament after a 5-2 defeat at the hands of Osredkar’s Slovenia. Skubala’s presence, however, ensures that there is an English representative at the finals, and he is joined by experienced English referee Mark Birkett, who officiated in the 2012 World Cup Final.
Skubala believes that the increasing interest in futsal-specific opinion can aid the presence of an already fast-growing game by increasing participation, understanding, and media attention, as well as developing more competent football players. The feedback he has received has been ‘refreshing’, and the fact that more people want to learn the intricacies of the game is ‘encouraging’.
With improved understanding, futsal can be used more beneficially to further improve player development. As such, Skubala welcomes questions from interested viewers, and encourages any intrigued readers to contact him on Twitter with their questions. He can be found at @mskubala.
For anyone interested in taking up the sport, Skubala runs the International Futsal Academy, who are continuing to recruit for 2014/15 entry onto their program. Follow @IFA_Futsal for more information.