Futsal and Football aren’t as different as you might think. Indeed, there are key differences: futsal is mostly played indoors, while football is played outdoors; futsal balls bounce less and are a tad smaller; and it usually has five players per team, while football features eleven.
But the skills one develops for futsal do translate to the football pitch. And there is no greater proof of this than these four football greats who sharpened their skills on the futsal court.
In Spain and South America, Lionel Messi is called “La Pulga Atomica,” which translates to “The Atomic Flea.” But while this nickname might be one of the least threatening names out there, Messi’s presence on a team leaves opposing players shaking in their boots. Many consider him the best football player alive—the way he withstands tackles, fakes out defenders, and places his shots just outside the reach of the goalkeeper. It comes as no surprise that part of this skillset came from playing futsal. In an interview with FIFA.com, Messi recounts that, when he was a little boy, he played futsal on the streets and for his club in Argentina: “It was tremendous fun. It really helped me become who I am today.”
The only reason why Messi isn’t the unanimous “best player in the world” is because Cristiano Ronaldo exists. While Messi runs the field in a menacing manner, causing entire defenses to lose composure and collapse on him, Ronaldo runs more like a gazelle, overpowering and outpacing defenders before they can even panic. To his fans, Ronaldo is every bit as good as Messi—after all, he did win the 2016 Balon d’Or, the most prestigious individual award in football. CR7, as football fans call him, forged his skillset, his technique, and his unmistakable flair while playing futsal. In the same interview with FIFA.com, Cristiano Ronaldo said that, back in Portugal, all he played was futsal: “The small playing area helped me improve my close control, and whenever I played futsal, I felt free.”
There are few other players tipped to inherit the distinction as the best in the world apart from Neymar. It’s almost impossible to describe his game, because he’s good at everything. He’s cunning, he’s quick, he can finish with both feet, he can score from set pieces. Football legend Pele has even said—to much controversy—that Neymar is better than Messi.
What’s the foundation of Neymar’s level of skill, which rivals that of Messi? You guessed it: futsal, which Neymar considers one of the biggest passions in his life. Since he basically grew up under the watchful eye of scouts, there are easily accessible videos of him playing futsal on YouTube. In an interview with FourFourTwo, Neymar speaks of how futsal shaped his style of play: “When you’re out there playing [futsal], you’re forced to think fast and move faster—if you lose a second, the ball will be gone. It’s a more dynamic game and it’s come in handy at [FC Barcelona].”
Liverpool FC has had a rough decade following their UEFA Champions League victory in 2005. But Philippe Coutinho, who Liverpool fans call “Little Magician,” has instilled hope into a desperate fanbase. Coutinho is the epitome of the footballing term “playmaker.” He is quick, he can dribble, but what really sets him apart is his imagination on the field. He has a knack for finding passes that—as football announcers say—slice through defenses like a knife through butter.
Coutinho attributes his current level of play to futsal: “[Futsal] is where I learned my skills… the place where you play is much smaller and the pace [is] higher, so you need to be a highly technical player to play futsal properly.”
There are even clips of Coutinho on Youtube, playing futsal as a kid.
It’s true that there are key differences between futsal and football, but if this list is any indication, the skillsets needed to succeed in football and futsal intersect. In fact, one might even argue that—to reach an elite level—one’s training must gather elements from both sports.
Having more venues to practice and play futsal will definitely help take Philippine sports forward, and there has been notable progress these past few years. There is the UA&P Futsal Court, the first regulation court in the country, proudly built by E-Sports International, and the Kick Off Indoor Football Center in Ayala Alabang.
We are hopeful that we are able to undertake more projects in the future—whether they are futsal courts or other sports facilities—that can give Filipinos more venues to develop their skills, and practice their love for different kinds of sports.