Premier Futsal League: What impact will it have on the footballing landscape in India?
With the Premier Futsal League kicking off in India amidst much fanfare, the questions buzzing through the minds of passionate Indian football fans are the same. Desperate for years to see their country achieve some footballing success, they have had to feed off the European Leagues and International tournaments for most of their dose of the beautiful game.
Of course, there is tremendous delight in watching France take on Germany in the semi-final of the UEFA Euro 2016 or an Atletico Madrid vs Real Madrid final in the Champions League, but there is an expressible joy in watching your own country out there on the pitch.
Indian football fans have been left pretty frustrated over the years. The lack of facilities and adequate pitches, the absence of a coherent and consistent playing style from the national football association and a domestic league that isn’t up to the standard in organizational and financial terms have all meant that we’ve been going nowhere.
In recent times, though, there’s been a buzz of corporate interest in a global game that has now begun to generate an increasing popularity in Asia and in India. The Indian Super League has had several positive effects even though it’s also drawn criticism from several quarters for not being a holistic solution to improve the footballing levels in the country. What can’t be denied though is the fact that there is now the interest in putting India on the footballing map, something that wasn’t there a few years back.
What of Futsal then? The game is defined as a modified form of football played with five players per side on a smaller, typically indoor, pitch. Several of the best footballers of all time including Pele, Ronaldinho, Luis Ronaldo, Lionel Messi have talked about the beneficial effects of playing futsal in their formative years.
Even Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar have praised the game. Xavi in an interview to Uefa.com also said, “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."
If introduced from an early age, the game encourages controlled possession play, having flawless technique and control with the ball. It also places great focus on distributing the ball quickly, not taking unnecessary touches and dawdling, qualities that will thoroughly improve the players as all-round footballers.
A look at the Futsal World Ranking tells us that Brazil, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Argentina are all in the Top 10. These are all countries with a plethora of players with excellent technique and finesse, and it shows in the collection of International trophies that these nations have accumulated as well. It’s obviously not a coincidence that these countries are amongst the best in Futsal, they have a strong footballing ethos based on harnessing the best technique in their youngsters.
At the same time, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are in the Top 10 as well, while they’re really nowhere in the International Footballing scenario, so relying purely on Futsal won’t necessarily take you up the ladder either. All in all, though, with Japan and Iran well placed and Serbia, Croatia and Colombia highly ranked it’s a decent barometer of technical skill and flair and somewhat reflects a country’s technical standing.
Criticism faced by Futsal
The Premier Futsal League came in for some intense criticism from India’s governing body, with them raising valid questions about the longevity of the league model and their intentions to really improve the footballing landscape in the country. These questions do deserve serious consideration. While the buzz that the arrival of players like Ronaldinho, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Hernan Crespo has created is immense and helpful, there also need to be serious funds allocated to make sure training facilities and futsal courts are constructed throughout the country.
A nationwide model of football that gives youngsters the chance to develop and ascend a defined ladder will help us improve the level of players by leaps and bounds, but the confusion of several different leagues under different governing bodies will not. The glitz and glamour of getting A.R Rahman and Virat Kohli to star in advertisements will only be helpful up until a certain point, for the long term we need quality facilities, a clear hierarchy and structure of the different leagues in the country to really begin to even dream of participating in the World Cup in the near future.
There isn’t much doubt that we will only benefit from introducing Futsal but it also needs to be complimented by a series of other measures, including financial and political might.