Former Juventus FC and Real Madrid CF defender Robert Jarni has done much to raise Futsal’s profile since the Croatian star ended his football career. Jarni, 36, took part in the 2004/05 UEFA Futsal Cup for MNK Split but was unable to help them progress past the first qualifying round, having taken them to the last eight of the 2003/04 edition.
With a promising coaching career in front of him, and years of experience at the highest level - Jarni is well placed to discuss the future. Here, in a interview given at the recent UEFA Futsal Workshop held in Ostrava, Czech Republic, Jarni shares his thoughts on Futsal.
Why did you become a Futsal player back in Split after a long and illustrious career in the outdoor game?
Robert Jarni: It was a situation where I got home after the 2002 [FIFA] World Cup finals. I started playing Futsal with my friends and I fell in love with the game. So then I took up the offer to go into club football and I have become more and more deeply involved and in love with the game.
Do you think your presence can help promote the game?
Jarni: Basically I never thought of it that way because when I play I am committed to helping the team. I focus entirely on that and trying to get a good result, like any other player. So I don’t really notice what is going on around me. But if I can cast aside my modesty for a minute or two I would probably say, yes, it has made a difference because in the past the club there were very few spectators, now, since I have been there I have noticed there have been more spectators coming to matches. And obviously the media interest is slightly highter so I think I would have to admit my presence has made a difference. It is a sport with a great future but we all have to work very hard to continue to promote it. But I think there is something to promote.
How has your presence encouraged youngsters to get into the game of Futsal?
Jarni: At the club we are working with youngsters from the age of ten upwards and the coach is also working with them. So we are building for the future. Also we have to take a careful look at coaching coaches - training people to coach youth teams. This is a department where there is still a lot of work to be done.
What is the ideal age to come into Futsal?
Jarni: I think you can really see a clear difference between the players who have come in at the age of 17 and those who have started earlier. We have seen a lot of Brazilians in Europe and you can really see a clear difference in terms of technique, the skill and their control. They have come into the game at a much earlier age. This is what we should be aiming at and what we should be encouraging - then people can become really top players. If we are talking about quality, you are talking about something in technical terms that a player repeats and repeats until they reach technical perfection. The earlier you start doing that the better chance you have of helping them reach that technical perfection.
What about physical condition? There is a myth among some that Futsal can easily generate injuries.
Jarni: There is a different type of physical preparation because obviously the first four or five metres in Futsal are everything. There has to be a lot of explosive effort so the physical preparation has to be different in Futsal. Of course, there is no risk entailed in the game at all.
To illustrate the difference, a friend of mine told me that Futsal was just ‘child’s play, a kid's game’. I invited him along to a training session and afterwards he changed his mind. He said ‘this is terrible because in the outside game you can easily hide and take a breather for a minute’. In Futsal there are only four of you and you can’t hide at all. It really is physically demanding.
Have you improved your skills since turning to Futsal?
Jarni: Yes, the first few months were difficult because the ball is smaller and I kept letting it run under my foot. But it is more demanding in terms of skill and ball control.
What was the biggest change for you in moving sports?
Jarni: I think the most difficult thing was the control. In Futsal you really have to learn how to control and move the ball with the sole of your foot, which is something you don’t really see in the outdoor game. And of course we are not just talking about doing this in static positions. You have to do it at speed. I think that was the most abrupt change that I had to cope with.
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