Futsal is a fast-paced variant of association football played indoors, that has inspired many of football’s greatest-ever players. With a rich and fascinating history, spanning several decades that often reflects South American attitudes towards expression, flair, and competitive sport, Futsal players dependant on incredible ball control and on-the-ball ability in order to beat players on a much smaller indoor pitch.
A Brief History
Born out of the huge popularity of Football following Uruguay’s 1930 World Cup win and prior success in the sport at the 1924 and 28 Olympic games Futsal was created as a way to play football indoors or in enclosed spaces. Since then, Futsal has evolved into a distinct discipline with its own set of rules, tactics, and global recognition.
It was originally invented to be played on Basketball courts. If you’ve ever played football at those caged-in Basketball/Football spaces, you’re essentially just playing Futsal, with possibly too few/too many people. The game has influenced the majority of us who played football in our youth, with thousands of these concrete pitches erected across the country, all of them directly inspired by Futsal pitches and even street football.
The early roots of Futsal can be attributed to the efforts of Juan Carlos Ceriani, a Uruguayan coach who had up to this point made a career coaching Swimming and Water Polo. In 1930, Ceriani created a game called “Indoor Football” as a means to keep football players active during the winter months and a way to play football if conditions rendered an outdoor pitch unusable.
This version of the game was played on a smaller court with five players on each side, using a smaller, weighted ball to encourage skillful and precise play.
As Indoor Football gained traction in Uruguay, it soon spread to neighbouring countries in South America, with the sport much easier to organise and play than a full 11-aside game of football, as far more gyms/sports halls/ enclosed public spaces were available compared to usable Football Pitches.
The sport’s popularity grew steadily, as football captured the imagination of South America. By 1956, the South American Confederation of Indoor Football was formed, with the objective of organizing competitions, standardizing rules, and most importantly expanding the sport as it’s own thing and not simply an indoor version of football.
However, despite trying to establish the nuances of the game that separate it from football, the sport would be referred to as ‘Indoor Football’ up until 1989, when the game was officially renamed to “Futsal” by FIFA.
Futsal as an Official Sport
Following this recognition, Futsal became the only officially supported version of 5-a-side football which gave the sport a huge boost in both popularity and status. Now a globally recognised sport in its own right, Futsal permeated through all levels of World football, from grassroots to professional. With title-winning sides using it as a means to help ball control, agility, quick thinking, and creativity.
Another first came in the same year, as the first FIFA Futsal World Championship were held as a celebration of this now global recognition in the Netherlands, heralding a new era for the sport.
Since then, Futsal has grown exponentially, captivating players and fans around the world. The sport’s rapid growth in popularity can be attributed heavily to the Tiki-Taka explosion of the mid to late 2000’s.
First, the small playing area demands quick decision-making, technical proficiency, and exceptional ball control, making it an excellent platform for developing on the ball skills. The reduced space encourages intricate passing, tight ball control, and creative dribbling, fostering a high-tempo, dynamic style of play.
Futsal’s influence has spread beyond South America and gained significant traction in Europe. Countries like Spain and Brazil have emerged as dominant forces in Futsal, producing skilled players who have seamlessly transitioned to the outdoor game. The technical prowess, agility, and tactical intelligence developed in Futsal have become highly valued assets in the world of football.
Naturally, with the sport’s focus on technical ability, many of the last two decades’ greatest players spent much of their youth on Futsal and indoor Football pitches. Its fast-paced, electric action is a major part of its success as both a spectator sport and its ability to attract players.
However, as football continuously evolves, its become more and more important in shaping careers and is commonly used by managers to help their players hone their on-the-ball ability which is vital in the faster-paced Futsal. Managers from Pep Guardiola to Michael Carrick have used Futsal or very similar concepts in training as a means to train a host of technical and mental attributes.
Futsal’s Greatest Footballers:
Below are just 5 of hundreds of incredible footballers that have all been hugely influenced by Futsal, citing it as a huge part of their development. There are many more legendary players to swear by its influence, with Futsal integral to the spines of some of the greatest football teams and players in history.
A cornerstone of one of the greatest footballing XI’s of all time, Xavi and Barcelona’s incredible success and style of play was no doubt influenced in part by many of their players’ roots being in Futsal. Xavi was no exception, with the Spanish midfielder playing futsal throughout his youth.
The faster-paced, tight-spaced variant of football would shape Xavi’s everlasting engine, quick close control, spatial awareness, and most importantly for Tiki-Taka, his ability to think 3 moves ahead of both his opponents and teammates. The constant pressure in Futsal makes for the perfect test chamber to develop all the skills needed for tiki-taka football.
Xavi himself attributes much of his success as a player to learning Futsal at a younger age, with the now La-Liga-winning manager considering it a Litmus Test for a footballer’s on-the-ball talent.
“In futsal, you see whether a player is really talented. In normal football, you don’t necessarily identify talent as easily because it’s so much more physical. But with futsal, you notice the small details in quality, class and tactical understanding.”
It’s no surprise that ‘O Bruxo’ spent much of his formative years on the Futsal pitch. His playstyle embodied ‘Joga Bonito’ (Play Beautifully) with Ronaldinho always finding ways to play beautiful football, even when facing the likes of the antithesis of Pele’s mantra, John Terry.
He would find it hard to give up, with the focus on skill, creativity, and technical ability, it suited Ronaldinho’s personality perfectly. Never one satisfied by simply doing what was expected, his inventive flourishes and unique touches are all taken from his Futsal roots.
A prime example of this influence on the football pitch came in May of 2005 against Osasuna, where he would intentionally play Ludovic Giuly in on goal with an effortless yet ingenious touch off of his back. No one other than Ronaldinho could quite comprehend what had happened until they watched the goal back.
It was the sort of inventiveness that’s integral to success on a futsal pitch. Disguised passes to fool the other team are almost necessary when playing in such a tight space. He would categorically confirm this influence too, stating “A lot of the moves I make originate from futsal… to this day, my ball control is pretty similar to a futsal player’s control.”
Every time you see a clip of his signature flicks and physics-defying ball control, you’re seeing the lessons and skills he picked up playing Futsal in his youth. Perhaps this is why he always seemed to be smiling on a football pitch, his inner child was shining through his playing.
Don’t worry, this list isn’t completely exclusive to Barcelona players. Cristiano Ronaldo, at least the second-best player of the last 10 years, has also heavily attributed his success to Futsal, the game having gained popularity in Portugal during his childhood.
The record-breaking goal scorer would spend years developing his footballing ability through Futsal, with its prevalence in Portugal during the late 90’s testament to the sport’s rapid growth following its official FIFA recognition in 1989.
Without Futsal, we wouldn’t have have perhaps the greatest player of the Premier League era, with the already legendary forward attributing much of his talent to the sport. “During my childhood in Portugal, all we played was futsal. The small playing area helped me improve my close control, and whenever I played futsal I felt free. If it wasn’t for futsal, I wouldn’t be the player I am today.
The reason the Portuguese Ronaldo is always proceeded by the name Cristiano, Ronaldo Nazario is in the top 5 players of all time with millions left in awe of his ability throughout his career. His legendary skill and inventiveness were learned from Futsal.
Ronaldo started his career at the Social Ramos futsal team at the age of 12, leading the city’s youth league in scoring with a record 166 goals in his first season which included scoring a terrifying 11 of his team’s 12 goals in a single game.
Ronaldo is one of Futsal’s most vocal ex-player supporters, crediting futsal as mainly responsible for developing his skills, going as far as to say, “futsal will always be my first love.”
Among the most illustrious names in the history of the sport, if Messi says a sport positively impacted his footballing ability, its 100% teaching players the right skills. No doubt many fans of the little magician will rush out to take up Futsal on this basis alone.
Messi not only played Futsal as a child but continued to even during his adolescence when playing for Newell’s Old Boys. He would even initially play 5-aside street football before officially joining a Futsal team.
Messi has attributed Futsal as playing a huge role in his development, citing it as not only “Tremendously fun” but also stating “it really helped me become who I am today.” If that’s not enough to convince you of the sport’s teachings and influence then nothing will.
There’s no telling the sort of player Messi might have been without Futsal, but if his otherworldly dribbling ability is even slightly influenced by Futsal, we should be encouraging every young footballer in the country to play it.