England's Football Association was late to adopt futsal but now not only boasts an improving national team but also sees the sport as crucial to developing the next generation.
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A decade ago England had neither a national futsal team nor a club competition. That was soon rectified and they are now taking strides to catch up with the continent's best – something the Football Association (FA) thinks will also aid their 11-a-side teams.
Indeed, Pete Sturgess is not only the English national futsal coach but also FA development coach for the 5 to 11 age group. Simon Walker, FA national manager for small-sided football, is clear how highly the body values futsal.
"There's a lot of work going on with Premier League academies, embracing futsal and using it within their development of 12, 13, 14-year-olds," Walker told UEFA.com. "All coaching modules from the FA include futsal as a tool for five and six-year-olds. So they have the technique of [Andrés] Iniesta or [Lionel] Messi. It is a real sea change of where futsal fits, rather than just being a bolt-on sport."
However, that is not to say futsal is not being taken seriously as a discipline in its own right. The England team have been gradually improving and have hopes of progress through next year's UEFA Futsal EURO 2014 preliminary round. Sturgess said: "In our previous tournaments, there's been one team who are the favourites and we've been really competitive with the other two teams. The benchmark now will be to say whether we draw or win against the favourites."
Sturgess, who took over from founding coach Graham Dell in 2008, added: "In the first three years of my tenure, we didn't have any conditioning support. Levels of conditioning and fitness are a massive factor. We are making strides, we have a Spanish strength and conditioning coach who's worked with national sides in futsal and basketball. We've got great medical back-up so our players are going out in top condition. Tactically we can be naive and we are still working out the nuances of the game, but every time we play it's another brick in the wall."
Helping to build that structure has been the development of the FA National Futsal League, which was launched in 2008 and consists of three regional divisions leading to a championship play-off. "The national league has been really important," Walker said. "Players can play futsal week in, week out. It's not a hobby with football as their main pastime, most of them have given up 11-a-side and got better, and it's allowed our England team to get more competitive. Our national league clubs have set up Under-21s, U18s and they are building that structure for youth development. Clubs are creating awareness in their communities as well."
The league has been dominated so far by Helvécia Futsal Club, who, as their name suggests, have a Brazilian background – as well as ambitions of advancing in the UEFA Futsal Cup. Influences from Spain, Portugal and Croatia have also been important in the evolution of English futsal yet future playing – and coaching – talent will be homegrown.
"The futsal family internationally are extremely friendly, every nation we go to wants to work with us, support us and share wisdom, so we get a lot of support from UEFA and FIFA futsal instructors," said Walker. "In our early years we drew a lot of wisdom from foreign coaches, now it's important we embed our own English futsal coaches, get them coming through and get our own culture and style of playing futsal."