Historically, Brazil is well known for being the “country of football” and for developing some of the best players of all time. Legendary teams such as the 1970 and 1982 Brazilian national sides have changed the world through the way people see and play football. The list of Brazilian legends includes, Zico, Kaka, Rivellino, Ronaldinho, Romario, Cafu, Neymar and of course, the greatest of all time, “Pele”. This nation, faced with so many social and economical challenges, has managed to dominate a global sport and influence styles of play throughout the world. But how did Brazil manage to develop so many good players? What is it about Brazil that no one else has?
Well for starters, Brazilians consider football their religion and have invested more time in it than worrying about the many problems that they might otherwise address. They managed to develop an attacking and fast thinking mentality full of skills and tricks unique to the Brazilian style through adaptability and creativity! Brazilians always find a way to make things work, and they’ve been rewarded for that. With little to no resources, kids must be creative and find ways to play soccer without a proper field, goals and, sometimes, reduced number of players. Street soccer, futsal, beach soccer and footvolley are among the most popular games youngsters partake in, and they’re hugely important for the kids’ development. These activities help them to develop the fundamentals of soccer in a very natural way.
Basic concepts such as passing, shooting, control, dribbling, 1v1 attacking, 1v1 defending, quick transitioning and playing out of the back are critical in these condensed games. Small games in tight spaces lead to more action. Kids get more touches, have more emphasis on fundamental skills, while having more fun and entertainment than a full-sided game can offer. They play over and over again, for hours, improving their skills tremendously. Futsal, having the most in common with full-sided football, is the most popular. Brazilian giants like Corinthians, Santos and Flamengo have noticed the benefits of the sport and have incorporated futsal to their player development strategy. Kids from the U6 – U12 categories are focused in futsal and only transition to the field once they get to U13. Players graduating to the field come with a full complement of foot skills and decision-making capability which makes for a highly successful transition.
It is no coincidence that European clubs spend millions of dollars every year on players that have been developed in this system. The most expensive player of all time($263mi) and current “Ballon d’Or” candidate, Neymar, has futsal roots. Earlier this year, when asked how he became the player he is today, Neymar said: “Futsal had a massive influence on me when I was growing up. It’s a very demanding game and it really helped to develop my technique, speed of thought, and ability to perform moves in tight spaces. I think futsal is a fundamental part of a footballer’s life.”
In contrast, futsal in the U.S. has not gained much popularity. Americans are still unfamiliar with the approach, and not surprisingly, they continue to struggle to develop top players. The improvements in soccer have been tremendous over the past years but the country is still miles away from a good player development system. With the increase in popularity and heavy investments made in soccer academies, perhaps futsal can be the stepping stone for player development in America. The potential is there, but will America ever become a force within the beautiful game?