Futsal’s beautiful promise (NZ)

The Nelson Mail (via stuff.co.nz)

PLAY BALL: Scott Gilligan, left, of the Oceania Football Confederation, Nelson Suburbs development manager Darren Soroka and New Zealand Football's Dave Payne are keen to see futsal grow. Photo Patrick Hamilton

Where did Brazilian football superstar Ronaldinho learn to do that? Where did he learn to attach a ball to his foot with an invisible string?

When Ronaldinho plays, one flick of the leg, one false move, one foot goes one way then the other and he is around the defender and, more often than not, around the goalkeeper and into the back of the net. How does he do that?

Well, Ronaldinho can do that because when he was a youngster he played on the streets. He played “futebol de salo”.

Literally translated as “football in a hall”, it is a smaller, quicker and in some countries altogether more popular version of the beautiful game.

Its name was shortened to futsal and soon its popularity spread across the world.

Futsal started in Uruguay, in 1930, when a PE teacher wanted to create a version of football for competition in YMCAs.

Now the game that made the superstar is coming to Nelson in the hope that it will develop the region’s talent.

When Nelson Suburbs development manager Darren Soroka took some of that young talent up to Auckland for a competition recently they got a bit of a hiding.

“What was really noticeable was the speed of the play and the technical control with both feet.”

At 12 years old it is a lot easier to drill in those skills. At 16 it is a bit harder. So the earlier a programme can be put in place the better.

Scott Gilligan has been involved with the sport’s development in Australia and Oceania for more than 20 years.

He is a former player and coach for the Futsalaroos and is now in charge of the pumping up playing of the sport around Oceania.

That journey brought him to Nelson last week to help train some of the new crop of local players.

“For a long time there was no structure in New Zealand for futsal, but then at the end of 2008 New Zealand Football decided it was time to do something.”

That something is a league. The challenge, Soroka says, is to change the idea in players minds that football is just a six-months-a-year sport, that it is something you can play only when the weather allows.

Sure, talent helps a player to be successful but also in the mix is the fact that they have likely played thousands of hours of the game by the time they are a teenager.

“That’s a lot,” Soroka says. “That’s the difference.”

Futsal allows that. You can play it anywhere.

The game is played between two teams of five players, including the goalkeeper, but unlike some other forms of indoor football, the game is played on a hard-court surface – walls or boards are not used.

Futsal is also played with a smaller ball with less bounce than a regular football.

The rules place an emphasis on improvisation, creativity and technique, as well as ball control and the ability to pass in small spaces.

New Zealand Football’s futsal development manager, Dave Payne, says traditional indoor football is a waste of time if you want to teach players anything valuable about the game.

With indoor football a bouncy ball is used. “You kick it against a wall and people get injured. It teaches bad habits.”

With futsal, coaches are trying to teach players to control and pass in one touch.

It puts them in tight spaces where the decision-making needs to be sharp and quick. All those skills translate into a better all-round player.

There are now 11 futsal associations in New Zealand.

It is played in 157 countries. Many of those are places without a lot of free space. The game is huge in Japan, and there are more futsal players in Italy than there are regular football players. In Brazil, futsal is a school subject that students learn up until they are 13.

Football on a full-sized pitch is for the rich kids, says Payne. “Futsal is grass roots.”

Especially the way Football New Zealand is going about rolling it out, by supporting new clubs with start-up packs.

Payne started with the game before that type of support existed. He helped start the Capital City Futsal Club in Wellington. That now has more than 1000 players and is the leading club in the country.

Leagues will start in Nelson for all ages next month. In the lead-up to that, Soroka hopes to be able to choose a Nelson team to compete in a national league.

Gagame Feni might not quite be Ronaldinho but his homeland, the Solomon Islands, is still known as the Brazil of the Pacific. Futsal is the most popular game there and the Solomons are also Oceania champions.

Feni is part of the futsal development squad started by Soroka. “It’s quicker, but you have to have the tactics. All the time you are sprinting,” Feni says. “You cover the basics, but it is good for your skills.”

Davor Tavich is in charge of looking after that talent.

“It has taken off,” he says. “It’s a great game but it’s also a lot of fun.”

Now the challenge is to build on that enthusiasm and turn it into something tangible. So maybe next time Soroka takes a team to Auckland the results will be a little different.

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