Eye on the ball
Exciting times lie ahead for football fans in the coming months. While die-hard European club fans wait for the final leg of the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals (April 19-20), those looking for some local action can follow the updates of the second season of Premier Futsal, this July.
Founded by a group of Indian entrepreneurs and supported by business tycoons, with the legendary Portuguese footballer Luis Figo as president, the event debuted last year with an unprecedented turnout and viewership (watched by over 33 million people in India alone), putting itself in the bracket of other high-profile and celebrity league-style tournaments in the country, such as Pro Kabaddi League, Boxing League and International Premier Tennis League.
But can Premier Futsal be compared to the big daddy, Indian Premier League (in its tenth season now this year) yet? Faraaz Abdul Azeez, who played for the Chennai team last season (which unfortunately did not make it to the knockout stages), says there is a great deal of potential. The fact that legends like Ryan Giggs (Mumbai) and Ronaldinho (Goa) came down to play in the tournament lends credence to its reputation, he says.
Talking of reputation, Premier Futsal will see a lot of football-loving countries wake-up to the action, as the tournament will be broadcast across 40 countries this year. With more matches this season (up from 15 to 27), matchdays increasing to 14, and with the event to be held across three venues, the tournament is set to rock the entire month of July.
Know your game
For the uninitiated, here are a few pointers to differentiate futsal from football —
♦ Futsal is a five-a-side version of the sport held in an indoor arena with a wooden or artificial turf.
♦ The football used is smaller in size than the ones used in regular versions (size 4 was used in the last season)
♦ A Premier Futsal match lasts for 40 minutes, with breaks held every 10 minutes.
♦ There are no off-sides.
♦ Substitutions are unlimited.
Live and kicking
Faraaz Abdul Azeez, who has played league division football matches for the city, and held a day job at Citibank after graduating from Loyola College, signed up for Premier Futsal last year with no prior expectations. In fact, when he did make it through to the second round, he didn’t believe it at first.
“I thought I was being pranked by one of my friends when I received a call stating that I have progressed,” he admits, with a laugh. In the end, the 26-year-old qualified for the final team and played the tournament under the tutelage of Brazilian futsal legend, Alessandro Rosa Vieira, also known as Falcao (not to be confused with Columbian Radamel Falcao of Monaco club).
This year, as the rules state, last year’s players like Faraaz along with his Chennai teammates (Haaroon Sherif, Rohit Suresh, S Nandha Kumar, Yash Vital Atul Chugh and Unues Pasha) must go through the trials again, held as a part of the talent programme called Launchpad, where players (from ages 18-30) are selected and mentored by experts. “However, we (last year’s players) will get direct entry into the final-30 round of the trials, where we will compete against the newcomers,” says Faraaz, who is keen to employ the advice given to him by Falcao (Chennai’s coach and marquee player) last year during the trials this time around.
“He is often called the ‘Pele of Futsal’, so when he emphasised on the importance of keeping possession of the ball, and said that it was okay to miss the ball sometimes, I could only agree. He even showed me how it helps to keep running and track back, mainly during counter attacks by the opposition,” says Faraaz. Being selected for a second time for the main team was a confidence-booster, he adds.
However, when compared to regular football, in futsal, you have lesser time to rotate possession on the field. That said, Faraaz insists that improving one’s futsal skills does benefit their football prowess as well. (Unlike say, binge sessions of Street Football on the PS3.) “Players like Neymar and Ronaldinho who forayed into football with futsal-style play turned out to be fantastic dribblers and playmakers,” he points out. Will we see Faraaz on the way to such stardom in the coming years? He says he intends to focus on futsal as a profession. Considering the way Premier Futsal is geared up to grow as a phenomenon, it might turn out to be a great decision after all.
In July. To be telecast on Sony Six.
Registrations on till May 15. Details: premierfutsal.com