OFC Futsal and Beach Soccer Development Officer Paul Toohey discusses the state of the game in the region
Futsal remains in its infancy in the Oceania region compared with South America and Europe but it is growing rapidly.
With the Solomon Islands set to embark on their second FIFA Futsal World Cup campaign, oceaniafootball.com sat down with OFC Futsal and Beach Soccer Development Officer Paul Toohey to discuss the state of the game in the region and what he thinks of the Kurukuru’s chances at Thailand 2012.
Can you tell us about how futsal is developing in the Oceania region?
At the moment we probably have around 17,000 registered players in the region and six main countries where futsal is quite well developed, those being New Zealand, Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Tahiti and Fiji. We want to improve the level of our players in the region and so we feel if we can get the kids playing at an early age, we’re going to be able to get that technical development we need a lot quicker, something which mirrors what has happened in the rest of the world. Take Spain or Brazil for example, where futsal is very much at the centre of player development. They’re getting the rewards in futsal but also when we look to those two countries in football we can see that their players have grown up playing futsal. We are still in an early phase of trying to integrate futsal into our grassroots and youth programmes so it isn’t necessarily seen only as a stand-alone game but a game that enhances football development. The idea is that if you throw kids into an environment where they play futsal they get maybe six times more touches in a game than they would in normal football. It’s fast and requires rapid decision making and in those instances the statistics speak for themselves. At the same time we have got the elite area in the OFC Championship where a team like Solomon Islands has quite a high profile. They have become futsal specialists and are going to the World Cup – other nations have seen that and want to emulate it.
The Solomon Islands are at the forefront of futsal in Oceania at the moment and as you have said, other teams are looking to emulate that success. What impact have the Kurukuru had on futsal in the Pacific?
They’re four-time Oceania champions and people have a lot of respect for them – even in their own country which is traditionally a football nation. When they won the last OFC Championship there was a parade from the airport right through the centre of town and the streets were lined – they’re one of the ‘jewels’ in the whole Oceania crown. Solomon Islands are 43rd in the world in futsal yet they’re 180 or something in football – countries look at that kind of thing and think, ‘we can get there faster’. New Zealand is a good example with their current pathway. The Futsal Whites are now active playing internationally and they’re targeting 2016. Tahiti, similarly, are doing good work right from youth through to adult level trying to achieve success on the world stage.
The Solomon Islands’ World Cup build-up has included working with Spain coach Jose Venancio Lopez, how did that relationship come about?
OFC and the Royal Spanish Football Federation have a memorandum of understanding in which they offer support to OFC in terms of expertise, programmes and of staff – making them available to us – to help us build in technical areas. Venancio came out to Honiara for one week in late February to work with the coaches, Dickson Kadau and Jerry Sam, and the players. The team going to Madrid is a continuation of that programme, part two if you like. But it’s all part of a broader support programme in the partnership between OFC and the Spanish federation to help develop the game in this region.
What other roles has OFC played in developing futsal, specifically in Solomon Islands?
As part of the OFC technical department, we are assisting member associations and their teams with technical development. Juliano Schmelling is a Brazilian futsal, football and conditioning coach who has been based in New Zealand for the past two years. He works specifically in futsal in New Zealand and we knew he had the qualities to go to the Solomon Islands and work with the team. Speaking with the Solomon Islands Football Federation, we inquired as to whether they felt they needed some assistance, which they accepted. Juliano worked with them for two weeks on many areas of the game focusing on defence, preparation, conditioning and other details that are important at an elite level.
What is the difference between the team that went to the last World Cup and the team going this year?
The core of the team, maybe six or seven guys, is the same but they’re four years older. Some of them have had more international experience. Elliot Ragomo for example has been to Spain and played and they went to Libya as a team in 2009 to the Al-Fateh Confederations Futsal Cup and did very well – including a 6-6 draw with Guatemala who they will face in their last group game at the World Cup. We want them to keep achieving but we also recognise there’s great work going on in Tahiti and New Zealand, especially with their long term programmes, so it’s going to get harder for Solomon Islands to stay at the top.
How do you expect this team to go when they hit the World Cup? They will be up against some tough competition, like Russia for example.
It was 31-2 against Russia the last time, Columbia are a team from South America and futsal was born in South America so we know the quality of this team and Guatemala have hosted a Futsal World Cup, their level is already high and on the up. The Kurukuru meanwhile are coming from the position of 18 months without a game and no access to a full-size court. I know what the players think and what the coaches think – they want to get to the second round. And as the captain Elliot Ragomo puts it, ‘Last time we went to participate, this time we want to compete’ and that’s really what sums it all up. They want to go and compete this time and they feel confident that they can.
How hard is it for this team to prepare for the World Cup when they are without a full-size court and many of the things that other teams can take for granted?
It’s difficult but at the same time, in a way, it’s also a strength. These guys don’t have the resources that a lot of these other teams have – but when I watch them that is what gives them a real unity, a togetherness. They are a very strong group because they don’t have everything handed out to them like elite teams often do and what you end up with is a team that is up against it. In the future, for me in my job, a key aim is making sure these guys have a proper court in the next year or two. It’s very difficult to prepare, but this is also a very special group.
Does being without the same resources as other countries make their success more impressive?
Definitely, to me they are a lesson in what can be achieved with the right attitude and with great technical ability. Everyone in the region should look at those guys and say, ‘Look at what you can do with passion and technique’. Yes, it’s a disadvantage not to have a full-size court, but the difficult circumstances have brought them together as a team and made them quite a unique group that we should all look at and admire in Oceania, they’re an inspirational team.