What did they do as youngsters that provided them with the basis to becoming some of the world’s best players?
They all played the game of Futsal.
Futsal is the format of Small Sided Football that is recognised and supported by FIFA and UEFA with World and European Championships for club and national teams.
The name 'Futsal' simply combines the Spanish words for ‘Hall’ - Sala - and ‘Football’ - Futbol - into Futsal.
It is a five-a-side game, played with hockey sized goals and a smaller ball with a reduced bounce.
As a small-sided game players are constantly placed in situations where they must receive or play whilst under pressure or in confined spaces and it places considerable demand on technique, movement, tactical awareness and fitness.
Keen to emphasise the South American roots of a sport that the likes of Ronaldo, Denilson and Roberto Carlos all grew up playing, Futsal was the name chosen by FIFA for the only version of 5-aside football that it supports, when it took over as the governing body of the sport in 1989.
After the first FIFA Futsal World Championships, which took place in the Netherlands in the same year, Futsal began to increase in stature as more and more Associations began to adopt the sport, keen to take advantage of its benefits in developing players for the bigger game.
Individual close ball skills are developed through an increased number of touches during the game, whilst players are nearly always placed in reduced space situations and are constantly forced to make decisions which demand speed of thought and quick reflexes.
Esentially 5-aside but with some twists on how the game is currently played across most of England, Futsal has been designed to provide a high paced, energetic, fast flowing game for spectators at the same time as allowing players to be at their most creative by protecting those showing attacking flair.
The end-to-end, non-stop, goalmouth action has proven a hit with the fans as the number of professional leagues in the world game grows every year. Russia, Portugal, Italy, Brazil and Argentina all have professional leagues along with Spain, the current World Champions, whose league regularly attracts over thirty thousand spectators a week to it’s games.
Futsal fever is currently encapsulating most of the globe but it owes a great deal of its success and all of its appeal to the streets and playgrounds of South America were the game was first conceived.
South American Origins
Futsal has its origins in the South American countries of Uruguay and Brazil where, in the 1930’s, two versions of small sided football were being played in the cities of Montevideo and Sao Paulo respectively.
In Montevideo, the Argentinean coach Juan Carlos Ceriani developed an indoor version of the 11 aside game that could be played in youth competitions in the local YMCA’s.
Meanwhile in Brazil, a version began to develop on the streets of Sao Paulo, leading to the publishing of the first rules of the game in 1936 from the country that would soon become the masters of the game.
The sport began to spread from the South American continent and with it’s growing popularity came the need for a governing body and a World Championships. The International Federation for Futebol de Sala, FIFUSA, was officially founded in Brazil in 1971 and the first FIFUSA world championships were held in Sao Paulo with the hosts taking first place ahead of Paraguay and Uruguay. The Brazilians fielded stars from their 11-aside game that had been brought up playing the sport with amongst others Pele, Rivelino, Falcao and Zico demonstrating their skills as Futsal players.
The game continued to grow under FIFUSA with even more countries participating in the second world championships that took place in 1985, this time hosted in Madrid.
FIFA Takes Control
It was becoming clear that the sport was beginning to outgrow FIFUSA and in 1989 FIFA took over as the governing body, abbreviating Futebol de Sala to ‘Futsal’ and organising the first FIFA Futsal World Championship held in the Netherlands in the same year.
Under FIFA’s control new rules were introduced aimed at improving the technical and aspects of the game for players and spectators alike. The ball was made slightly larger (increased to a size 4) but still weighted to reduce bounce, the linesmen were replaced with the second referee and unlimited substitutions were introduced.
FIFA’s relationships with its member associations enabled more and more countries to gain access to futsal knowledge and resources. This was no doubt a major factor in the increase in the number of participating nations in the fourth FIFA world championships held in Gautamala City in 2000, in which Spain ended the dominance of Brazil in world Futsal beating them in the final. This was the crowning glory on an excellent performance by all the UEFA Associations taking part.
The dominance of UEFA associations at the Guatemala finals did not come out of blue and was the result of a development plan that began in 1996 when UEFA, recognising the growth in Futsal across the continent in the early 1990’s, arranged a European tournament for national teams in Cordoba, Spain, which was eventually won by the hosts.
UEFA continued to build on the growing popularity of the game, organising the first European Championships back in Spain but this time in Granada, which the Russians won after a penalty shoot out. The tournament attracted record number of crowds and convinced UEFA to carry on with the development of the game, encouraging even more of it’s member associations to take part in the qualifying rounds of the second UEFA Championships held in Moscow in 2001.
In the same year, encouraged by the growth in stature of the domestic leagues in Europe, UEFA created the official European competition for futsal clubs – the UEFA Futsal Cup, with teams from member associations earning their right to play in the competition by winning the National League or Championship organised by their own association.