Futsal: Football’s cousin that shot to popularity but fell flat quickly enough

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sportskeedaThese days, everyone demands a shorter format to many sports. Therefore, it’s no surprise that a 5-a-side version of the beautiful game, caught the fancy of many. Futsal is an indoor sport, with only 20 mins a half. It’s short, exciting and brings guaranteed end to end action. Some of the greatest footballers in the world, owe their skills to games like futsal. It burst onto the scene like a breath of fresh air, but lately, the popularity seems to have fizzled out.

So why did it become so popular with the crowd? What does futsal bring to the table?

Firstly, it’s a great platform to improve a footballer’s technique and skill. The game requires a lot of short passing and movement off the ball, a requirement in modern day football. A good futsal player needs to be creative and a master of improvisation. Since the players are playing in reduced dimensions, skills such as close control and first touches are also developed. Apart from this, futsal is a much safer game to play, with fewer injuries as opposed to it’s elder brother.

There is a nostalgic aspect to this as well. Many of us have played games similar to this on the streets growing up, and that probably increased crowd turnout as well as participation at tournaments.

The first Futsal World Cup was held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1982 with the hosts finishing first. Brazil have always been a dominant force in this sport. Some of the eternal greats such as Pele, Ronaldo and Zico, grew up playing futsal on the streets. These days, football clubs and nations realize the need to incorporate futsal into their systems in order to produce technically astute players.

Many qualities can be drawn from this sport, which can be applied to the longer format.The world famous ’Tiki Taka’ style of football by Spain, is due to teams such as FC Barcelona, incorporating futsal into their training sessions. The results are for all to see! 2 Euros with a World Cup in between with that style of play! It’s amazing  how a team’s philosophy could revolve around this sport.

Futsal was growing and not just in Europe and the Americas. India has also been trying to generate interest in the sport. For a predominately cricket following nation, this was always going to be a daunting challenge. However, a few years ago, Pepsi had its own version of a futsal tournament called ‘T-20 Football’ which was held in many cities and brought together many stars such as Didier DrogbaFrank Lampard and Fernando Torres along with our cricketing heroes such as Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

In spite of efforts to raise the popularity of the game, there still seems to be massive stumbling blocks affecting it’s progress. It still hasn’t reached the popularity of it’s other cousin beach soccer.

The game lacks elements such as hard sliding tackles, athleticism and strength of players. There aren’t really any 30 yard screamers or long diagonal balls, which the fans love to watch. Even though it’s a shorter format, it isn’t as big a spectacle as the beautiful game.

Generally, in order for these sports to become popular, there needs to be a lot of money pumped into their respective organisations. Futsal lacks that. It was a game that was designed for playing in areas where football fields were not available easily. Therefore, it isn’t as popular in the developed countries of Europe, as opposed to the Latin American countries.

In the developed countries of Europe, football infrastructure isn’t an issue at all. Futsal is unable to stand independently as a separate sport and therefore lacks financial backing and acceptance.

Futsal barely receives any media coverage. Good marketing is the key to building finances for clubs and increasing the popularity of the sport. The organisations in charge of managing the sport are badly managed and only look for short term gains. Sport is a business these days and as a result, lot of money is invested for short term benefits, but huge problems creep in, which they’re unable to recover from.

In futsal clubs in certain European countries, such as Spain , players in the first team are on short term contracts and as a result, lots of transfers take place, making it difficult for fans to pledge loyalty and associate themselves to a certain team. If the fans don’t show support, the turnout is directly affected. There is no sense of stability in these clubs thereby tarnishing the image of the game.

All hope isn’t lost for futsal. Through futsal, technically gifted players can be grafted into the football setup of a club. Organisations must plan out their finances for the long term and attract sponsors with the help of good marketing. Once that’s in place, the competitions will run smoothly and will attract media attention for the right reasons. Promising careers can be forged in the sport if all goes well.

It’s wrong to think that futsal will take over football someday. Even though the two games are essentially the same, there are a lot of differences in terms of the required skill sets. It’s definitely possible for football and futsal to co-exist peacefully. In fact, futsal can definitely better the quality of football in the years to come as long as there’s no negligence.

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