OPINION: What does the removal of futsal fields mean to Egyptian football?
Though FIFA has been supporting futsal development in the past years as it compliments football while being its own game at the same time, Egyptian authorities apparently do not see the sport the same way, as the government has recently started a campaign to remove a number of futsal fields that were allegedly built on private agricultural lands.
Such fields are popular among youth in underserved cities outside the capital Cairo, where inhabitants of these cities lack space for practicing the sport.
In fact, Egypt and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah, who started playing football in the disadvantaged village of Nagrig, near the city of Basyoun, took part in futsal matches and tournaments at a young age before he started his professional football career.
To put the situation in simple words, the Ministry of Agriculture believes that 2,400 futsal fields trespassed over 85,000 feddans (88,216 acres) and were illegally set up on private agricultural land and now wants to restore these lands to use them for their original purposes. Though it is important to sustain such lands, the decision was considered controversial among those practicing the sport and criticised by football experts because no plans for alternatives for these fields were discussed, in addition to the fact that government facilities are not well equipped to handle the sport.
Ironically, the decision came about two months after the Egypt futsal team reached a remarkable achievement, winning bronze in the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires.
Futsal basically serves football by helping young players understand and develop skills that can be used in football. There are multiple examples for professional footballers in all positions who came out of futsal fields and were discovered because of the indoor game, including football legends Pele, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Futsal is an extremely important way for kids to develop their skills and understanding of the game. My touch and my dribbling have come from playing Futsal,” said one of the greatest football players of all time Ronaldinho.
Fundamental football skills are seeded through futsal, as futsal players are forced touch the ball more often than they do in football, move in a limited space and find creative ways to defuse tough situations. Subsequently, this helps them enhance particular individual techniques like dribbling, passing, marking and ball control. A successful futsal player is particularly good at one-on-one situations by using dribbling skills to overcome challenges or by sending accurate and clever passes. It also helps players work on their defensive strategies and ball retention, especially because the game gives the opportunity for immediate counter-attacks.
Another example of an Egyptian player who came out of such fields and managed to play in the Egyptian Premier League is Mahmoud Abdelhakim, as he went from the indoors to playing with Petrojet, Al Masry and Smouha as a midfielder.
“Football and Futsal have a lot in common. There are different tactics and moves, but there is the same essence of mastering the ball, combining and making quick decisions,” said Spanish football star Andres Iniesta.
In general, Futsal should not be considered the only answer for having the best football players in Egypt, but it is one of many ways that can push young players to understand aspects of football that they can use afterward and eventually sustain a reliable football generation.
Yet, not finding similar or even better alternatives can be an additional barrier to the many other factors that are stressing the popular game in Egypt and its players.
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