Exclusive interview with England futsal assistant manager Michael Skubala

Three Lions Wembley

Michael Skubala believes that the increasing levels in futsal across the country will help improve footballing standards in the years to come.

It has been going on for too long now. The style of football was out-dated, insipid and non-committal. It was too slow, too clunky and non-progressive. It’s no secret what England’s deficiencies are – they have been shown-up on the big occasion, at European Championships and World Cups, on far too many occasions now for it to be a coincidence.

Across England, before a major championship, the country used to be a sea of ambition, excitement – perhaps, they could be classed as delusions of grandeur – but that is no more. Now there is a realism, a pragmatism, to peoples’ outlooks. They have been let down too many times before to expect anything other than failure.

There is a notion on these shores that this country is football’s home, yet others have quickly over-taken the English in terms of their philosophies towards the modern game.

England fans have watched on in awe at the likes of Spain’s, Brazil’s and Argentina’s national sides on the big stage. There is a tempo, a clear outlined plan and a fluidity to their play that has been absent from the English game for too long – perhaps we have never truly witnessed it.

Indeed, even a Chile side – who possess quality, but surely won’t be amongst the major contenders to reign supreme at the World Cup in 2014 - came to Wembley last year and showed England’s system’s faults up once again.

But what if there was a solution to the on-going problem, which seems to plague England on a consistent basis?

Thought to be the fastest growing indoor sport in the world, the FA are finally starting to take notice of the sport of futsal. A game which originated in South America in the 1930’s, futsal encourages speed of thought and demands players to be technically able whilst in possession. Played indoors, with five-players on each side, with a smaller ball, which has less bounce than a traditional football, the sport prioritises the exact principles that have proven void so often at international level in England.

Some of the greatest footballers on the planet have commented on the value of futsal on their games. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have both played the sport during their childhood and testify to its significance in helping them develop into the players that they are today.

However, it is only recently that the FA started to give the sport the precedence that it deserves. They now actively encourage young-people to take up futsal and it has grown exponentially as a result. There are also futsal facilities at the new heartbeat of football development in this country, the impressively designed, St. George’s Park.

And the England futsal national team's assistant manager, Michael Skubala, believes that it is a ‘no-brainer’ that the sport should be utilised to improve the technical standard of football in England.

He said: “It astonishes me how elite coaches are always abroad and have looked past futsal for decades. But I suppose you don’t know what you don’t know.

“Some of the best football players in the world have touched futsal in either a formal or informal setting. The game itself helps players to develop many technical but also mental aspects. The biggest one for me is the ability to think calmly and quickly under pressure.

“I don't believe futsal is the sole answer to the football issue, but it is part of the melting pot, for sure!”

England’s burgeoning interest in the sport is highlighted by the fact that they did not even have a national futsal side until 2003. But there are now over 400 clubs that compete in the futsal FA Cup. Many professional football teams have also set up futsal sides to represent them in a number of local futsal leagues found around the country. As a result, Skubala believes that the sport is as big as it has ever been in England at the moment.

“Futsal is growing well at the moment and, with the decline in football, it is bucking the trend and going the other way,” the former Hinckley United player said. “Maybe it fits slightly better with our changing culture at this present time. I have been in futsal 11 years now and it has been no bigger in the UK than it is today.

“The biggest issue we need to control is that as a nation we coach and play futsal, not football, on a futsal pitch. Football coaches need to become students of a different game to really get the value of it in its own right or as a football development tool.

“The growth is massive at the moment and I strongly believe it can be a big sport in the UK.

“How big only time will tell, but within the next three to five years people will be watching it on TV, I’m sure.”

England still have much work to do in terms of getting the sport to somewhere near the standard that it is at the very top of the game, though. The national team is making steady progress, and there has been a massive uptake in terms of the amount of players and teams that are now playing the game, but the national side is still ranked 80th in the world - below countries such as Andorra, Armenia and Qatar. However, Skubala believes, in time, that England can boast a game that matches up to the same standard that is seen in the top futsal nations such as Spain, Italy and Brazil.

“One thing I believe England do really well is sport development so I’m sure this could happen,” he enthused. “However we are, perhaps, 10-20 years off that yet.

“For now we aim to keep improving and driving futsal forward. Our next aim is to qualify through the group stages of the European Championships, but this will always be difficult as we have amateur players going up against full time futsal professionals.

“To put it into a footballing context it would be like a Conference football club trying to qualify for the Euro’s!”

With interest in the sport continuing to grow the opportunities to play the game are increasing. One of the most exciting of these is through the International Futsal Academy, where Skubala is head-coach.

“The International Futsal Academy is the only full time education and futsal academy based in the UK,” he says, explaining his new project. “It is, basically, a futsal academy for students over the age of 18, who want to carry on playing in a full-time, professional environment but also study for a degree.

“We recruit players that are released from the professional game of football at the age of 18, but also from futsal environments from the UK and abroad.

“We now have successful England senior internationals, development squad players and England U19 players on the programme.”

Rather than solely focusing upon the futsal, though, the Academy also places great importance on getting players an education – forming a partnership with Loughborough College and University - and offers courses in a range of subjects, which are studied alongside playing the sport.

“The academic side the programme is paramount,” Skubala said. “I very much disagree with the football culture in this county that players can’t be educated whilst still playing.

“In many other countries like Japan players in the J-League will still study to a high level. I always say to the players you must be coming for the education as the futsal will look after itself.”

To view more on the International Futsal Academy and the ways that you can get involved with the sport of futsal please visit: http://www.futureelitesports.com/content/futsal-academy-new.html

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