A flavour of futsal developing at Cambridge United
PUBLISHED: 07:00 12 February 2018
Iliffe Media Ltd
Head coach Luis Mendonca talks about enhancing the technical discipline in the city
To many footballers in the UK, futsal is an anathema because it is difficult to quantify and put in a bracket. But to Luis Mendonca it is the epitome of the sport, and one he grew up playing in his Portugal homeland.
The almost snobbish attitude towards the variation of the game comes from generations who have never been exposed to futsal, and their inability to pigeon hole it, trying to squeeze it into the same bracket of social and small-sided football.
However, in many parts of the world, futsal is used to hone and develop the technical skills of a player from a young age, and Mendonca is determined to help raise awareness and spread the word in this country.
He started playing in Portugal as an under-12, and carried on until his 30s, but also did a sports and science degree with futsal specialisation and then a masters degree in high performance sport and futsal.
Having completed his UEFA courses in England, he is now head coach of the Cambridge United Futsal team, and they are making impressive strides in the first FA National Futsal Super League.
After a difficult start to the inaugural campaign, they have found their feet and are now unbeaten in eight games, after Monty Bouttell’s double and one from Angel Martinez gave them a 3-0 win over York last Sunday.
And they have done it by combining the two ends of the spectrum, a squad of 18 players either under 18 or over the age of 30.
Many of the older players had learned the sport in their homelands before arriving in Cambridge, while the youngsters are the new breed that have taken up the sport in the last five years.
“When it started all we had was a bunch of foreign players who were experienced playing abroad in Spain, Italy, Portugal, wherever, and we then started developing young English players,” said Mendonca.
“At the time they were 14 or 15, to the point now where the Italians and Spaniards are in their 30s and the players we started developing in the under-16s are now adults and playing with us.”
To appeal to a new audience has meant breaking down preconceived ideas about futsal, and selling the virtues of the actual game, not what is purported to be.
“There is a misconception that futsal is about tricks and flicks,” said Mendonca. “It’s not really what futsal is about; it’s about awareness, it’s about being efficient technically.
“The game is a battle for space because that’s what we don’t have; space. Everything is tight, that makes everything quick because if you don’t have space then you won’t have time.
“It’s becoming easier to sell as potential players start watching games. If you go to Youtube and type in futsal, all you will see is some amazing skills that are part of the game, but a tiny part of the game.
“But if you come down to the hall to watch a game, you will understand those skills are there but they are part of a bigger picture, and the bigger picture is the awareness, is the fight for the space and to generate and deny space.
“Technical means good fundamentals. It means that you need to have a really good control of the ball, you need to have really good accurate pass, you need to have a really good shot so you need to be technically efficient.”
Mendonca stressed that you do not need to be a dribbler to be a good futsal player, and that a naturally-gifted footballer may not make an easy transition to futsal at the end of their careers.
The space and time element is the key factor, apparently, as while say a centre-back for a professional club may have time on the ball in an 11-a-side game, that will not exist in futsal.
However, a Football League midfielder may, for example, make an easier transition as they will be used to not have time to dwell in possession.
“Then there is the technical aspect because tight control in football might mean a loose control in futsal,” said Mendonca.
“It’s about more than speed of action, I would say it’s more speed of thought. If you find your space, you will have it for two seconds because after that somebody would be on top of you.
“You need to think ahead, you can’t have the ball and start thinking what to do with it. You must have your decision made before otherwise you lose it.”
However, as more youngsters get exposure to futsal, the more the game will become second nature, as it is to those who have already arrived on these shores with the necessary skills.
And increasing the numbers taking part in futsal is one of Mendonca’s primary aims at Cambridge United, and the region has a whole.
“In terms of the club, we would like to develop futsal. We can only do that if we develop futsal within the county and the country really,” he said.
“All the clubs are working towards the same goal, and that is getting more people playing the game, so we can have better people playing the game so we can have better people playing for us.
“In terms of the club especially, what we want to develop is the development centres we have across the city and have more players playing in them.
“Once you have that, and you start working with them, the players we have now who are 17 or 18 will be 24 or 25, and the youngsters will fill in the gaps.
“We started at the bottom with the under-13s, and what we want to do now is close the gap. We are producing the players to reach the first team, and we are making better players who started with us to be an example to the ones coming up.”
The shining light being Cambridge United’s Monty Bouttell, who started in the first team when he was 15 and is now an under-23 international with England.
“Monty produces the example and the aspiration for the players starting now. The aim is to eventually mirror the academy system at the club, and make it for futsal as well,” added Mendonca.
And with that passion for the sport, you imagine that there will be a shift in opinion towards futsal in the coming years – from all generations.