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Under-19 Futsal EURO: a stepping stone

The Under-19 Futsal EURO is a crucial step in player development according to Spain and Portugal coaches Albert Canillas and José Luís Mendes.

The UEFA European Under-19 Futsal Championship trophy
The UEFA European Under-19 Futsal Championship trophy RFEF

Futsal is a young sport, but even as the discipline matures, new talents need to be brought through and fresh stars minted. Hence the launch of UEFA’s first full youth championship, the U19 Futsal EURO for which this is the second edition.

The first tournament three years ago in Riga did not take long to produce its first star graduate. Tomás Paçó helped Portugal to the semi-finals, and since then has won the senior FIFA Futsal World Cup and UEFA Futsal EURO alongside Zicky, who played in qualifying in 2019 but missed the finals through injury. Portugal coach José Luís Mendes, who also happens to be one of the assistants for the senior team under Jorge Braz, certainly sees the U19 competition as a vital addition to the path to futsal professionalism for top players.

“This is key, as it is the final step for young sportsmen, and really a stepping stone to the seniors,” he said. “At this level, they are going through a phase of specialisation in terms of their performances, and already have acquired the fundamentals necessary to play at a higher level. This step is also very important, because it is at this age that the vast majority of youngsters decide on their academic path, which can also interfere with this stage of their careers.”

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Finishing school

Albert Canillas, who led Spain to victory in 2019 and hopes to do so again this time around, sees it also as a finishing school, giving each nation the chance to mould the players they want for the senior squads of the future. “For us, the U19 team is very important because our players begin to learn the philosophy of the Spanish national team, acquire the right values, such as effort, commitment, humility and discipline, and begin to adapt to our model,” he said.

This does not just go for the traditional futsal forces. Teams like Wales and San Marino have been able to taste victory in the preliminary round, where Andorra went one better, getting through a round of UEFA national-team qualifying for the first time at any level, football or futsal, and beating Moldova and only just losing to Belgium in the main round. Andorra player Guillem Jeansou summed up the aim, saying: “Little by little we are climbing the steps with the aim of trying to reach the seniors.”

HatTrick help

The U19 EURO is not the only way UEFA is aiming to develop futsal and future players. The HatTrick programme, for which European football’s governing body committed €775.5 million between 2020 and 2024, and an earmarked €935m for the next four-year cycle, includes incentive payments for associations to enter all the UEFA futsal competitions, with some choosing to dedicate funds towards specific futsal projects including pitches and promotion of the sport, ensuring more young people get the chance to play.

Spain players and staff celebrate winning the 2019  U19 Futsal EURO title
Spain players and staff celebrate winning the 2019 U19 Futsal EURO titleUEFA via Sportsfile

The extra opportunities for futsal players – young and old, male and female – at the top European level is displayed in 2022 where, uniquely, all four UEFA futsal competitions have final tournaments in the same calendar year. Of course, this was because the U19 and Women’s Futsal EURO were postponed from 2021 due to COVID-19, but there were not previously even four tournaments to conclude in the same year, and the determination to get the competitions played, even behind schedule, underlines that the chance for youth and female futsal talents to face off on the highest stage was kept alive.

Synergy is crucial

As associations, and clubs, develop their futsal programmes, a distinct pathway to the top level diverging from practices evolved in football might well continue to emerge. But Canillas emphasises synergy with the outdoor sport.

Spain coach Albert Canillas
Spain coach Albert Canillas UEFA via Sportsfile

“I believe that the education process of a player is the same in both futsal and football,” said Canillas, who worked for FC Barcelona’s futsal department before joining the RFEF. “Each player has his own assimilation process regardless of the sport he plays.”

But do futsal players reach maturity at different ages to footballers? Mendes said: “I really don't think there is a standard age to reach maturity. It changes from each young person to another, as they all have individual and different specifics.

“Obviously, their surroundings and the experiences they gain throughout the years have an impact on their maturity process. However, they are themselves more responsible for their growth and evolution. They must be dedicated, persistent, resilient and work harder than others.”

Pivotal week

The 112 selected players have already shown that just to make the squads here in Spain. And Mendes is sure it will be a pivotal week in their careers.

Portugal coach José Luís Mendes
Portugal coach José Luís MendesUEFA via Sportsfile

“For all of them, it will be their first major international experience,” the Portugal coach said. “Competing with the best from other countries will have a significant impact on improving their qualities and skills. At the end of the tournament, I honestly think all of them will be better players and certainly realise that they still have a long way to go, that they will have to continue to work hard and be persistent in order to become better players.”

This article appears in the U19 Futsal EURO official tournament programme