Andrey Ashavin now plays in Almaty, the city which is hosting this week's UEFA Futsal Cup finals, and the former Russia winger speaks about why he loves the small-sided sport.
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The UEFA Futsal Cup finals are taking place in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Friday and Sunday, and keeping a close eye will be former Russian football international Andrey Arshavin
The 35-year-old ex-Zenit and Arsenal winger now plays for Kairat Almaty, whose namesake futsal side is staging the UEFA finals. Arshavin spoke to the official tournament programme.
What's it like living in Almaty?
I like it. I'm comfortable here. I have been made to feel very welcome. The weather is warm most of the year and it's a short drive to the mountains.
Do you know much about Kairat's futsal team?
I know Kairat play at a very high level. I used to play futsal myself at university and in the St Petersburg championship, so I am interested. I would definitely love to have a closer look because Kairat are considered one of the strongest teams in the world. I might even ask to train with them!
What do you like best about futsal?
I like the fact more goals are scored than in 11-a-side football. I also like it when players perform unconventional tricks.
What can a footballer learn from futsal?
There is so little space and so many one-on-one situations that you need to have good dribbling skills, good technique and to be quick on the ball. Futsal develops those qualities. Everything happens in a split-second on a tiny bit of the court. It's no coincidence that people who have played futsal tend to be quick and skilful.
How much futsal did you play as a boy?
I came through the Smena Football Academy, and during the long winter months the academy's two halls with wooden floors were our home. We had futsal tournaments and I always liked to play because, as there are fewer players in futsal, there were more goals and dribbling opportunities. I liked it a lot. But whenever you play on the street or in the yard, and there isn't much space, that's like futsal too.
Why is futsal so popular in your native Russia?
It is hard to say, but I think futsal peaked in the 1990s with [late Russian international] Konstantin Eremenko, Arkadi Bely and their famous Dina Moskva team. That said, I also watched Russia's matches during UEFA Futsal EURO 2016. They played some decent stuff but unfortunately they lost to Spain in the final.
If Kairat's footballers played the futsal team, both indoors and outdoors, what would be the outcome?
I reckon the fans would love to see that! The futsal players would have the advantage on the court, and we would be stronger on the pitch. They actually did something similar at Zenit when I was there.
Who is the most skilful footballer you have played against?
Messi – no explanation required. At Arsenal it was Cesc Fàbregas. In any difficult situation he positioned his foot the right way to pass or shield the ball. Pick any distance, five metres or 40, his passes always landed at your feet.