On the move from Shakhtar Donetsk, Alex Teixeira honed his craft playing futsal as a youngster, like countless Brazilians before him. "It's where you learn everything," he said.
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With its emphasis on quick feet, close ball control and dazzling technique, futsal is as Brazilian as a colourful Rio street carnival or a balmy evening on Copacabana beach. The game itself was actually born in neighbouring Uruguay in the 1930s, but it was in Brazil where futsal – or 'futebol de salão' (indoor football) – truly exploded into life.
The country's crowded cities and a lack of outdoor pitches forced many football enthusiasts to take their passion indoors, and the skills fostered in the small-sided game soon spilled over into the traditional form of the sport. Seleção legends such as Pelé, Socrates, Zico and Ronaldinho all grew up playing futsal and have credited the discipline with helping shape their mastery of the ball – as have some of the biggest names in European football including Andrés Iniesta and Cristiano Ronaldo.
That tradition continues to this day, as attacking midfielder Alex Teixeira, fresh from a big-money move from Shakhtar Donetsk to Jiangsu Suning, is well-placed to attest. Yet another Brazilian gem to have passed through the futsal school of refinement, the 26-year-old first discovered the game at Vasco da Gama and feels indebted to its unique challenges for sharpening his talents. "I started playing when I was nine or ten and I played it for three years," he said. "That was at Vasco, where I began my career – everything started there. And futsal helps you a lot.
"What I later took with me onto the pitch was how to turn quickly, as well as speed and the ability to sprint. It's where you learn everything, where you practise a lot. It helped me with short dribbles and you accelerate quite often, so that was all useful."
As a boy looking up to Romário, Alex Teixeira could not get enough of football whether it was indoors or out, and focusing on both forms gave him a release for his boundless energy – while also building his stamina. "As a ten-year-old you don't really get tired, you always want to play," he said. "I learned a lot from always working on my physical fitness. Football is a game where you can't stay still for long – you need to move – so I learned that and was able to take it onto the pitch."
The prolific schemer eventually had to choose between the two pursuits, but even after his promotion to Vasco's first team in 2008, he would regularly stop and watch the club's youngsters playing futsal after training. He left Brazil for Shakhtar in 2010 and has emerged as the Ukrainian giants' talisman this term – scoring three goals in their UEFA Champions League group stage bid – though he retains a keen interest in the small-sided game, like so many of his compatriots.
"Futsal is very popular in Brazil," he explained. "Brazil have the best player in the world, Falcão, so the stadiums are always full whenever there are futsal matches." The national team have certainly guarded their status jealously, winning five of the seven editions of the FIFA Futsal World Cup – Spain won the other two – including the most recent in 2012. Perhaps just as importantly, however, Brazil continues to give youngsters a grounding in the indoor game – and Alex Teixeira will surely not be the last to thrill crowds with tricks picked up on the futsal court.