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How will English football develop?

By Alistair Magowan

Brian Barwick famously consulted "12 wise men" from British and European football as he began his search for the new England manager.

Were he now to canvas the opinions of the best players in the world about the malaise in English football, it is possible that the word futsal would come up time and time again.

Manchester City and England defender Micah Richards
Futebol de salao did improve my technique - it makes you more composed on the ball

Micah Richards
Man City and England defender
Cristiano Ronaldo and Ronaldinho both credit the skills-based game with making them the players they are today.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the countries who excel at futsal - Brazil, Spain, Italy and Portugal - also feature prominently in the Fifa world rankings.

In contrast, England's senior futsal team have won one match in 46 attempts and lost 4-2 and 6-3 in a double-header against Andorra in October.

Futsal is a five-a-side game played on a basketball-sized pitch with a size four weighted ball and it has much in common with another version of the game futebol de salao which uses an even smaller ball (size two).

The emphasis is on improvisation, creativity and technique - you are unlikely to hear calls of "get stuck in" or "get rid of it" at a futsal match.

While it is widely played by youngsters in Brazil, Portugal and Spain, the game is still rare in England, where traditional five and 11-a-side matches predominate.

England's futsal coach, Graeme Dell, believes the desperate record of his team points to a wider malaise in the English game.

"A lot of the success of countries like Brazil or Italy has to do with the breeding of players in the younger age groups and the fact that they grow up playing futsal," he told BBC Sport.

Originated in Uruguay and Brazil in the 1930s
Played indoors, with five on each side
Uses a small, weighted ball
Goals 2m high and 3m wide
When foul limit reached, all subsequent fouls result in a penalty
Played by Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and just about every Brazilian international when they were young
"They learn to keep the ball in play because of the nature of the futsal ball and court."

Countries such as Spain host a professional domestic futsal league, in which players are paid as much as their 11-a-side counterparts.

Manchester City and England defender Micah Richards is one of the few top English footballers to have played using a smaller, heavier ball as a youngster.

"It did improve my technique," he told BBC Sport.

"It makes you more composed on the ball and makes you want the ball more, so you can do something with it."

Brentford, as part of their Community Sports Trust programme, introduced futsal to their training programmes a year ago, and coach Luis Melville says it is already making a difference to the technique of his players.

"Futsal makes players more difficult to play against in 11-a-side and gives them more tools in their armoury to be a more complete footballer," he told BBC Sport.

Unless we start bringing the futsal concepts to the way we train young players, we could be having this conversation again in 15 to 20 years' time

Graeme Dell
England's futsal coach
"Players find it challenging. Because space is at a premium on a futsal court, the ball has to be manipulated far more closely to the body.

"Players also have to do clever things with the ball and their foot skills improve. There is no hiding place on the court, so decision making is absolutely paramount."

Zinedine Zidane once said he was fortunate to have played football on the streets of Marseille until the age of 14, meaning no-one had the chance to coach skill and improvisation out of him.

"That is what futsal is all about," Dell says. "It's a platform to allow a player to use invention and game understanding to not only develop themselves but get out of trouble.


"Whatever drill or exercise you develop, you have to make the player think for themselves."

Dell says that a lot of English coaches have a "blinkered vision and are "doing the same thing year after year".

And he adds ominously: "Unless we start bringing the futsal concepts to the way in which we train young players we could be having this conversation again in 15 to 20 years' time."

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