England Futsal Head Coach Peter Sturgess looks back at last week's Futsal competition in France.
New England Futsal Head Coach Peter Sturgess is here with the latest edition of his regular column for TheFA.com, looking back at last week's trip to France for the first open International Futsal Tournament in Caen.
The opportunity to take part in the first open Futsal tournament in the northern French town of Caen was too good to miss, even though since becoming coach to the England Futsal team I had conducted only two training sessions.
I experienced moments of real excitement at the prospect of playing the Netherlands, France and Montenegro, tempered by the anxiety of realising that I hadn’t had enough time with the squad to really begin to influence how they might play.
The 14-man squad included nine players with no international experience, so the challenge was a tough one, but one that I wanted to accept for both personal and professional reasons.
When the squad met up in a London hotel prior to leaving for France the next day, the process of creating an effective, cohesive team began. A team meeting outlined very clearly my plan for this tournament and for the future of the squad. I went through the three ‘pillars’ that would be at the centre of our ‘game plan’:
- Becoming a tight defensive unit
- Improving ball retention, allowing greater control over the tempo of the game
- Adding an effective, lethal counter-attack to our game.
The aim of the trip was also to assess the players’ ability to succeed at international level and to find out what is needed to become more competitive in the international Futsal arena.
For this I used the quotation “The strong take from the weak. The smart take from the strong” to emphasise the fact that if we have open, enquiring minds that allow us to learn quickly and effectively. Then, regardless of results, we will have benefited from the experience.
Following a long tiring journey by coach and train we finally arrived in Caen, quickly settled into our hotel and then left for our first training session.
The session was a mixture of instruction, experimentation and practice but all of it was focused on becoming more secure when defending. The squad reacted very positively, demonstrated a willingness to learn and the ability to pick things up quickly.
This was needed as the opening game was against a competent Dutch team.
We visited the Zenith arena in Caen where the tournament was to be staged a few hours before kick off. The facility was excellent and had seating for around 3,000 spectators. It wasn’t full when we kicked off but 1,000 fans were present and waiting with anticipation when the England v Netherlands match commenced to open the tournament.
The game ended with a 4-1 Holland victory, but for the ‘rookie’ England squad it was a really positive start. None of the players were happy with losing but there was a real sense of achievement because of the way that they had played, and defended, against a fluent, fast-moving Dutch team.
The game plan had been quite successful and both players and staff gained confidence from that. When the game was analysed closely, it was revealed that the first half was lost 2-1 and the second half 2-0. This was indeed a positive step forward and left us all looking forward to the next game.
This was to be against the host nation France, as they lost 4-3 to a strong team from Montenegro in the late evening fixture.
The build-up to the second game was fairly low key. Practice again centred around our defensive game plan and once again the players’ ability to either track runners or mark specific areas of the court seemed to be improving.
However, in the hour before kick-off the buzz of excitement, present the night before, was missing or at least somewhat subdued. Had the ‘high’ experienced after the creditable performance against the Dutch been replaced by feelings of anxiety, or even worse, inferiority? We were soon to find out.
At half time the scoreline was again 2-1 to the opposition, but this did not really reflect the true story of the half. My pre-match fears had been realised as the French team forced us into a number of basic errors that culminated in them taking a 2-0 lead and looking by far the more likely to score again. Despite this, the team was given a lifeline when it created and clinically executed a move of the highest quality just before the half-time whistle. Game on!
The half-time team talk focused on our tight defensive unit providing the springboard to regain and control possession. But within seconds of the re-start the French had increased their lead and it was now a real test of our resolve. The game ended in an 8-1 defeat and the noisy, excited banter of the previous evening had been replaced by silence and individual reflection.
Had we over-performed the night before? Was the game plan right? Could I have done anything differently? All of these thoughts and more were running through my head well into the early hours and once more for the England Futsal squad it was a case of pick yourself up and dust yourself down. This is heartbreaking when the squad tries so hard and is prepared to give so much, BUT this very characteristic is the one that will drive us all on to improve and eventually it will bring success.
From my point of view, the initial disappointment has been replaced once more by a determination to produce an efficient, effective Futsal squad; a squad that we can all be proud of. This won’t happen overnight as we are a nation that is still developing and growing its Futsal heritage and tradition. But this great game will not go away.
Instead it will gather momentum as more players, officials and coaches grow the game from the base upwards. The small-sided games committee and everyone involved in the development of Futsal in this country will ensure that progress continues to be made and I am privileged to be part of this.
Wow, sounds like an Obama speech!