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No resting on your laurels

Javier Lozano has been coach of the Spanish national futsal team since 1992, during which time Spain have won the FIFA Futsal World Cup twice (in 2000 and 2004). In this article, the 46-year-ols coach reports on the phenomenon of futsal in Spain and all over the world and what the future holds for the sport.

In Spain, futsal emerged towards the end of the 1970s as a recreational sport for ex-footballers. They were then joined by young footballers who found a new source of motivation in futsal. Little by little, futsal competitions were organized, either by FIFUSA, the organization that used to run the sport, or the Spanish football association (RFEF), two coexisting bodies that led to a dangerous schism in the game.
1989 was a crucial year for Spanish futsal: the clubs, tired of political disputes, joined together to form the LNFS (national futsal league). Having listened to proposals from both sides, the new organization decided to affiliate itself to the RFEF, as a result of which it was brought to FIFA’s attention. In January 1992, the RFEF decided to draft in a young team to run futsal, who were faced with three fundamental questions:

The current situation?
Our strength was the enthusiasm and drive behind the sport; our weaknesses were the schism between the rival bodies and the lack of professional organization.
However, ours was a sport with great potential because besides its similarity to football, it is easy to play because fewer players are required to form a team and it can also be used as a tool for improving both futsal and association football players.
Finally, we were conscious of the dangers, as we would be competing with other indoor sports to capture children’s interest. Furthermore, some of football’s governors viewed us as intruders, so our future was by no means clear.

Where are we going?
Our main objective was to become a global reference point, a model, not only in terms of winning matches but also in terms of respect for other people and the sport of futsal, communicating values and setting an example of how to behave both on and off the pitch.
With this in mind, we set ourselves the specific targets of winning titles to gain credibility, going about our business in an exemplary and professional manner, creating an “esprit de corps” in which the common interest took precedence over individual interests and viewing our image as an important means of breaking down barriers between sporting bodies and in society as a whole.

How can we achieve this?
We began by devising the necessary strategies and action plans to achieve the above-mentioned objectives. The main priority was to promote professionalism at all levels and carry out all procedures by the book. Then, to become a school for life we developed an ?esprit de corps’, highlighting the values, principles and rules of the sport in order to generate deep respect for all aspects of futsal, i.e. to transform it into a genuine educational instrument rather than merely a sport. We then proceeded to create our own identity: imitating Brazil was one option, but however good a copy is, it is never as good as the original, so we decided it was necessary to develop our own style.
Among other things, choosing the most suitable people and not necessarily the best ones also proved a successful policy. Sometimes, however, we did choose the best people in terms of their qualities as sportsmen, without taking into account the fact that they were liable to cause problems and set a bad example through their behavior.
Thanks to our sense of togetherness, we created new working methods based on progress through teaching, the assimilation of concepts instead of set plays, creating a blueprint for producing intelligent players and introducing new areas of knowledge such as technology, psychology and sociology.
Full of confidence, we then set ourselves a reasonable timetable without attempting to rush things, as projects with solid foundations do not happen overnight and require a lot of belief in order not to fail.
The following concepts were key to our achieving our goals:

Futsal at an early age is an excellent tool for improving children’s futsal and association football skills, as demonstrated by players such as Ronaldinho, Deco, Raul etc. However, when children reach the age of 14 and 15, futsal tends to become more specialized and distinct from football, particularly in terms of tactics and physical preparation. This enables associations to attract more members, hold more competitions and above all, it offers a window of opportunity to all those who fail to reach their objective of becoming players, coaches, administrators, etc. in eleven-a-side football.

Harmonious development
Futsal’s development should be structured, i.e., not just oriented towards competitions. It is just as important to develop grassroots players, coaches and directors, be their professional or otherwise, as it is to develop top players.

One of the keys to the success in Spain was the RFEF president Angel Maria Villar Llona had the foresight and sensitivity to welcome futsal as another room in the house of football but allow it to be governed and run by futsal people who were true to the RFEF’s philosophy. This meant that futsal’s specific problems were resolved by experts.

This is vital across the board; as it is as important to have professional directors, press officers and marketing executives, as it is to have professional coaches and players.

Promoting the game
We Spaniards have learned with people taking up the sport and to help them get started, as all of us have received help at some point in our lives. However, this obliges us to keep on our laurels. To promote the game, we must evolve.