The England national side – or more specifically it’s lack of success – is something that gets discussed on a regular basis by fans and pundits alike.
Earlier in the month, England’s U20 team became the first England team since 1966 to win a major trophy, but since then a putrid performance from the seniors against France soon dampened any optimism as quickly as it had arrived. The lack of confidence is not unfounded.
Almost everyone has an opinion on why England are failing, but the bottom line is that the players we are producing are simply not good enough. Tactically and technically, English players lag way behind other big football nations, and have done so for a long, long time.
If you were to ask someone to describe the style of play of Spain, for example, a short, passing, fluid image would be conjured up immediately. With Brazil, a creative team brimming with number 10s would be the stereotype, whilst for Italy, a defensively robust team that relies on clean sheets and counter-attacks would be the immediate response. Ask someone to describe Germany’s team, and they would likely use the words efficient and clinical, and they were certainly that on the way to winning the World Cup in 2014.
Ask the very same question to anyone about the England team, and you would be met with silence. These stereotypes might not always be completely accurate, but they at least show that the country in question has a definitive way of playing and a clear idea of where they are heading.
The FA wants to create a ‘DNA’ of what English football is, and a vision of the players and teams we generate, but right now England have no direction. No one has any idea of what the England team represents, or the way we are trying to move forwards.
The general feeling amongst the public on the England team is one of apathy and indifference. For many supporters of Premier League teams, the chief concern when an international break comes is that none of their team’s players pick up an injury for when they return to club level.
England are boring. The lack of interest in the national side is partly because fans are spoilt with the quality and excitement of the Premier League, and qualifying stages for major tournaments being pointless and long drawn-out, but however it has happened, England have lost their appeal. It is becoming harder and harder to get excited about watching England play.
To make more people feel an attachment to the national side, it needs to become more interesting to watch: Futsal provides a significant part of the solution.
Futsal is the fastest-growing indoor sport in the world, and was founded in Uruguay in about 1930. In England, it began to get recognition in about 2005, but has never really exploded as many thought it might. Even then, England were 75 years behind South America.
The game is small-sided with five players per team, and is played on a much smaller pitch, forcing players to make quick decisions under pressure and develop speed of thought as well as technique.
Kick-ins when the ball goes out of play ensure that the game flows quickly with two fast-paced, high-energy halves the result.
With a smaller, heavier ball, the focus is purely on technique, and the limited space available forces rapid decision-making; Futsal produces players with intelligence, flair and creativity. Simply the fact that the teams have fewer players means each individual gets more touches.
Futsal creates a football culture where technique is valued highly, and attacking flair and skills are the norm. In Brazil, Spain and so many other top footballing countries, Futsal is common, yet in England, with a struggling football team, it has not caught on – that is no coincidence.
“Futsal was important in helping to develop my ball control, quick thinking, passing….also for dribbling, balance, concentration…. Futsal was very, very important, no doubt,” the great Brazilian Pele is quoted as saying.
More recent players like Philippe Coutinho, Thiago Alcantara, Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Neymar speak along similar lines, as well as many, many others.
All the major nations play Futsal and there is a correlation between those countries who take up Futsal on a regular basis and the time before they win a major tournament. It is no surprise that Italy, Spain, Brazil and Portugal have all had recent success and England have not.
In Germany (the World Cup holders), Futsal is not as proficient as in those other nations, but the country still has many professional leagues. In England, many people have never heard of Futsal, let alone played it.
Gareth Southgate has been known to travel the country preaching the importance of small-sided football in youth development, and there is a specific space at St Georges Park, the national football centre in Burton, for Futsal, but not enough people are aware of its importance. Academy teams and local, grassroots teams up and down the country should be playing Futsal in at least one session a week.
England need more technically gifted players and more creativity to really challenge, instead of the lethargic and old-fashioned football we currently produce. Adam Lallana and John Stones are more the exceptions to the rule, when they should be the norm.
Even if the country does not embrace Futsal with the intention of increasing our chances of tournament success, the sport is one that should be enjoyed by more people. It is a way to get more people active and retains more young players who might otherwise drop out of the system.
Sometimes you need to embrace change to progress, and whilst Futsal does not hold the magical power to elevate England’s national team to the very top of international football, it would certainly be a step in the right direction.