Ben Yedder Follows Neymar, Ronaldinho and More as Product of the Futsal Factory

Pete Hall@@petehall86Special to Bleacher ReportMay 8, 2015

BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 27:  Neymar of FC Barcelona looks on during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Granada CF at Camp Nou on September 27, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

Brazilians have wowed us with their beautiful style of play, inspired by their Joga Bonito philosophy, for generations, with Neymar the latest to make the jump from the street to the very top.

But have you ever wondered where this flair and mesmeric skill comes from, or why so many of the world's best players over the years have made the journey to Europe from the former Portuguese colony?

Originating in Brazil in the 1930s, despite what the Uruguayans may tell you, futsal became the bedrock of Brazilian football upbringing and utilised youngsters' dexterity to help them progress to the field.

Mostly played indoors, the usage of a smaller ball with significantly less bounce encourages closer control. Five players on each team are constantly rotated, but with the pace being so fast, all players enjoy plenty of the ball without being confined to one position—the team moves as one.

In Europe, futsal is finally taking off. It is taken very seriously in Spain and adopted into youth team training camps. How else do you think Andres Iniesta learned a first touch like this?

However, some players developed solely through the sport, and one such graduate played his entire youth career in futsal before becoming a big hit in France's Ligue 1 and is now attracting admiring glances from the likes of Barcelona, according to Le'Equipe (h/t Sport English).

Toulouse star Wissam Ben Yedder was a pivotal figure for Garges Djibson in the Championnat de France de Futsal Division One before fifth-tier side UJA Maccabi Paris Metropole spotted him.

Picked up by Toulouse soon after, Ben Yedder has gone on to consistently lead the Ligue 1 club's scoring charts and express his myriad unusual skills since breaking into the first team in 2010.

"Futsal has been developing a lot over the last few years," Ben Yedder told Bleacher Report. "It's a sport which we're hearing more about in the media."

The Franco-Tunisian forward is not wrong, and when I spoke to him, he said he feels happy to be a role model for a new kind of footballing education.

"The interest in it is growing, and I think seeing players like me succeed in Ligue 1 is proof to futsal players that it is possible. It proves that there is more than one route to take, and more players are getting noticed due to their high skill levels."

Even in fundamentally traditionalist countries such as England, the interest is building, but the structure is lacking. Britain possesses just one fully professional futsal team—east London-based Baku United.

They compete on the European stage against teams from all over the continent and are currently ranked 38th in the UEFA coefficient rankings.

But in England, they find it too easy, with the standard of the current crop of tricksters falling well short. In the last league season, they won every game and finished with a goal difference of 128 from their 14 games.

Their executive director, Oleksandr Saliy, told me that many aspects of the structure of the game have to improve.

"English coaches just don't know about futsal. It is easy for us. We are fully pro. We have been as high as the ninth-best futsal team in Europe without help. Imagine what Baku and the rest in this league could do with support from the FA? 1966? Too long. Try something else."

Doug Reed @DougReedFutsal

.@BakuUnited v @readingfutsal highlights from last weekend's Super League match. #Futsal https://t.co/0GoprjPmPe

Saliy's grievances have been heard, and plans are afoot to implement a proper infrastructure in England.

"It won't happen overnight, but the FA are finally getting their act together," William Sarne, treasurer of London United futsal club told Bleacher Report. "Now you have to pass through an interview process and prove you have structure and academy plans.

"Once you get through that, then you can start to talk about getting funding. There are plans to televise the sport in England in 2016."

In Spain—a huge advocate of the sport—they already televise futsal on prime-time TV, while Portugal recently hosted the UEFA Futsal Cup finals, and a record crowd of over 12,000 attended and fervently got behind the sides.

So why the fuss all of a sudden? What have the Brazilians been benefiting from for all these years?

"In futsal, I picked up specific technical skills," Ben Yedder said. "It also really improved my reaction time. In terms of footing and balance, too, futsal teaches you a lot. And most importantly, you learn to be very clinical in front of goal.

"These skills are what really helped me when I first started out in professional football. Whether it is in duels with defenders or against 'keepers, I use a lot of what I learnt and perfected playing futsal all those years ago."

Ben Yedder (right) in action in Ligue 1
Ben Yedder (right) in action in Ligue 1Claude Paris/Associated Press

Futsal players immediately give themselves a head start on the ball. Using the sole of their foot to control it, they shift their momentum forward, making the next pass easier as the ball is out of their feet.

The small ball and flat arena makes it easier to do so, but after years of perfecting such a skill, a futsal first touch can be developed to become second nature. The ability to read the game much quicker is an important skill against the many teams that have adopted a high-pressing approach.

The days of heavy drinking among footballers are long gone, and diets and fitness are of paramount importance. Today's players are elite athletes. Therefore, improving the speed of decision-making is essential, and that is a trait Ben Yedder was quick to point out is developed through futsal.

"It helps to be able to see things before your opponent," Ben Yedder said. "In futsal, you have less time to think so make decisions faster than most. You know what is coming. It may not always work, but an understanding is generated through futsal."

Celebrities always gets people's attention, and in Sean Garnier, English futsal has another Gallic role model with whom kids can associate.

The French freestyler, who specialises in performing spectacular skills that have made him a YouTube sensation, is working with London United futsal club, visiting schools and helping run their new academy.

"Imagine you are a magician and you make a trick with cards in the middle of a poker game," Garnier said.

"It won't necessarily win you the match, but the understanding of the game of cards in the way a magician does will give you a better idea of how to play poker. Futsal works the same. You don't play in the same position; you play as a unit and move as one.

"You therefore understand how every position works. You can become a complete player."

It is the notion that you learn every aspect of how to play that gives you a better footballing understanding than five-a-side or other small-sided games, where side boards and cages are commonplace.

But how do you make the transition to football? The games are still very different. I asked a veteran of Joga Bonito, Zico, to help me understand just how those street kids from Brazil went from futsal to winning World Cups.

Nelson Antoine/Associated Press

"Futsal helped me a lot when I was young, but you have to play the two together—futsal and football," Zico said.

"Many good players came from futsal: Ronaldinho, Neymar, Ronaldo and Rivellino. In fact, most players came from futsal. At grassroots, it should be futsal then football. You learn to fall in love with the ball, see it as a toy and enjoy it—the best education."

The foreign coaches are coming. London United have just appointed a UEFA-qualified futsal coach who had offers from another nation warming to futsal, Germany.

"Even back in my native Iran, futsal is popular. It is a great sport. What is not to love?" said Shahin Rassi, who played professional futsal and football in the Netherlands before turning to coaching.

"The matches at the moment are very poor, but that is not to say the players are not there; you can always create good players. That is where I come in. I have the experience.

"England and Germany are yet to embrace it. It is crazy. Look at the success Spanish players have had using it."

Times are changing. Ben Yedder's seamless transition from eccentric futsal star to Toulouse talisman will be more commonplace if things continue as they are.

The biggest clubs stockpiling top talents, backed by billionaire oligarchs, are blamed by failing nations for their perennial failures at international level, but what if there was another, more exciting way to produce better quality, intelligent footballers?

Ben Yedder is proof that it can be done. Is the best way to learn not just to play? And in an environment better than an uneven Sunday morning pitch, where diminutive youngsters aren't bullied into submission and you get 10 times the amount of the ball as you would do stuck out on the wing?

Spain jumped the gun and have reaped the rewards, France have Ben Yedder and Youssef El-Arabi before him as proof there is another way. England and other technically lacking nations have to open their eyes, move with the times and develop the next Wissam Ben Yedder. The game we love will blossom as a result.

All quotes were gathered firsthand unless otherwise stated.