Last week I was out in China on a legends tour with the likes of Michael Owen, Paul Scholes and Marcel Desailly, and we got to play futsal in front of a crowd of 10,000 people.
If you've never seen futsal, it's a five-aside take on football played with a heavier, smaller ball—a size four—and on a harder surface. The goals are square and there's a big emphasis on finding space, turning a trick and rolling your foot over the ball.
If the ball goes out, you have four seconds to pass it back in. If the keeper passes to you, you can't pass it back to him. The ball moves around very quickly, but the weight of it (it's 30 percent heavier than a size five and feels a bit like a small medicine ball) means you can't make it fly if you put your instep through it.
I think it's the way forward for English football. It's not about how strong or how fast you are; it's about manipulating the ball and developing your technique in possession. If the FA really pushed it to kids, as part of their development, we'd see huge benefits.
It makes you understand what football is really about. If you added it to the core activities given to English youngsters, you'd see an improvement in ability, and it would give us a better chance of developing players to rival Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the future.
It's the perfect sport for a nation that wants to develop its skill levels. We played the Chinese national team and there were skills and tricks coming from every player—Cruyff turns, clever toe-pokes and instinctive moves to make space for a pass.
Michel Salgado was with us in China and he was brilliant at futsal. Turns out they play it a lot in Spain as kids. It's also big in Brazil—with players like Chelsea's Oscar and Philippe Countinho of Liverpool demonstrating the technical benefits of playing a lot of futsal in their youth.
Asia is already embracing it in a big way. China, India, Malaysia and Indonesia are pushing futsal to kids and they'll see the results. I recommend we do the same in England.
As a kid, I remember bigger balls were banned on the playground at my school, which forced us to play with a tennis ball. The benefit was obvious—we were learning to control and move with a much smaller ball, and your technique can only improve from doing that.
Futsal delivers the same outcome. I'm not saying scrap the 11-aside and five-aside games kids already play in England; I'm saying add futsal to the curriculum and we'll hopefully see a greater development of skillful, intelligent footballers.
All the emphasis is on how big you are, how fast you are and how strong you are in England. Skill is a factor, but it's about fifth in the list of importance from where I see things. We need to change that if England are ever going to develop a player in the mould of Messi or Ronaldo.
Futsal alone is not the answer, but it's part of the answer. Let's get it on the agenda in England, and let's start teaching kids the right way, before we waste another generation of talent through misguided coaching.
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