Paul Jones is the Head Coach of Cardiff University Futsal team as well as the assistant coach for the Welsh National Futsal team. Mark Wyatt spoke to him about the sport and what it means to him. The Cardiff team will this season embark on another season in the BUCS League. After five successful years as a club, including a lot of trophies and playing in UEFA competitions, we look forward to this year’s itinerary.
So what are they key differences in futsal to football?
The best way to describe futsal would be that it is the basketball version of football. Indoors, time-outs, foul-limits, touch-lines. Instantly you can see its very different to 5-a-side football which a lot people associate it with, it’s a fast, highly paced game. You must be quick to play, physically and mentally. There are two ways of looking at futsal as a sport, two arguments that people suggest. The first is that in a lot of countries it is a totally isolated sport to football, it has its own performance pathways, and it’s a professional sport and so can provide people with a living. The other side is that the sport is there to provide better footballers, which is what it is like in our country at the moment, we’re generally using it with young people to develop them as better footballers through playing in confined spaces with more touches on the ball and more 1 v 1 situations. So in Wales that is where we are but other countries are streets ahead in that they have a professional sport in their own right.
How do you draft your players? Is it difficult to attract potentially brilliant players as they’d rather play 11-a-side?
It can be incredibly difficult, we do get a lot of players who may have failed to get a football team and think that futsal is easier to get into. Luckily I currently coach the University Football 2nd Team and I’ve got a way in with the players so I can identify who we think would be good and try to persuade them to come into futsal. There is that stigma to begin with that it is a lesser game than football and I can understand that being an ex-footballer myself, but as we’ve got more and more successful as a futsal team, its been easy. The games are on different days, we play our matches on a Sunday whereas the footballers play on a Wednesday and we also train on different days too. Very few players currently choose futsal over football so we have to accommodate both sets of players – essentially futsal and football are under one club banner though so players can do both and there is a great feel of flexibility. But overall once people buy into futsal they’re hooked – we do things the right way, we have a very good facility down at Talybont. We have a team in the National League and a team who won the BUCS Premier last year who were also Team of the Year at the AU Awards. So when other students see their friends doing well and playing at a high level it becomes a lot easier to attract players.
What are your aims this season?
Well last season was the most successful season we’ve had to date, we won the Welsh National Cup and went to the UEFA National Futsal Cup in Montenegro in the summer. So we’d love to retain our titles and qualify again. We had a strong team in BUCS last year including three Welsh Internationals in our squad, one of them has now graduated and the other two are part time students so their availability wavers. The aim is obviously still the same though, to win the BUCS. We only reached the Semi-Finals of the Championship last year, so this year the aim to get to the final eight, where you have a mini-tournament and try to reach the final which is in St George’s Park in April. The English FA Headquarters have a purpose built futsal arena there so for our students it would such a fantastic opportunity.
The internet shows many clips of skills and goals in futsal, has the game risen in popularity over the past decade due to its exposure in the media?
Social media is a huge help for the post, futsal is currently the fastest growing sport in the UK. We’ve been going just over five years here at Cardiff, but one of the biggest things now is that a lot of top players have grown up playing futsal, so Neymar and Ronaldinho played futsal as children and have hit the highest heights of professional football. The South American and Spanish players have that flair from futsal as they take it very seriously. There are one or two futsal superstars, Falcao is a massive player who has made a great living out of futsal. He was originally a footballer but chose to play futsal instead. He’s been great for the sport, most of the clips are him and he’s very good with a great personality to be the face of futsal. Not only that though the media coverage is improving, the World Championships are now on Euro Sport and loads is streamed on the internet. There is a live Spanish League match on the internet every week as well. Because of the University and domestic leagues it is slowly creeping in more and more – maybe it will get recognition as a Commonwealth and Olympic sport. Plus, given the weather we have here in Wales, having another indoor sport doesn’t do much harm!
What is your favourite thing about being coach?
Being Welsh and being involved with the national team is great, the futsal national team still comes under the national football association of Wales so we get a huge level of sport from kit to logistics to coaching support as well. There are seven or eight staff there and if we need something we can usually get it. There is a massive sense of pride alongside all of this obviously, being able to represent your country as a player or a coach, hearing the national anthem at fixtures is just fantastic. From where we were a few years ago to where we are now is great, we’ve beaten established teams like Israel and Greece so the progress is great to watch. Generally as a coach, whether it be futsal or football, its great planning training sessions and seeing the things you work on coming off in a match.
What has been your best moment in the sport?
Unfortunately futsal in the UK wasn’t really available when I was a player, I was more of a footballer and won the British Universities Championships as a footballer whilst I was a student at Swansea (pause for inevitable shocked reaction). As a coach of the football team, two years ago I coached the 2nd team to the top of BUCS league. Futsal though has to be the higher end of my coaching, winning the BUCS Premier League last year was great, winning the Welsh Cup as well was fantastic and being the first UK University to compete in the Futsal Cup. Every time the Welsh team take up the court and I’ve been involved is great. Futsal is a sport that came out of nowhere for me, the chance came out of nowhere and fell into my lap to make a University team and it’s taken me to some countries that I would never have been to otherwise so I’m very grateful to be involved and long may it continue!
Finally can you make a futsal team for me using current professional footballers, why would they get in your team?
It’ll be mainly South American and Spain dominated ill assure you here! As a keeper, being a Manchester United fan I’ll have to pick the Spaniard David de Gea. Given the way he plays with his feet a lot he would be good, you need to be very good on your toes for futsal. The centre forward role, known as a pivot in futsal, I would go for the Sweden Captain Zlatan Ibrahimović. A big strong guy with a great touch – he would be brilliant at futsal. Then the three behind him would be Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar Jnr – they’ve all played the game before, they suit the game and are currently the three best players in world football at the moment. They are a great example of how futsal and football link up. The other player who springs to mind who I’d have on my bench would be Phillipe Coutinho of Liverpool, he has been publically supportive of the game and played a great deal of futsal growing up alongside Neymar. Not a bad side indeed I think.