This is the second in a series of articles based on a trip that I took to see Sporting Club de Portugal’s futsal team. If you haven’t already read the first one, check it out here: lessons from Sporting Club de Portugal’s futsal team.
Cristiano the Goalkeeper
The first player, and one of the most interesting, that I came into contact with on my visit was Cristiano, a goalkeeper by trade. He’s been at Sporting for 11 years, which makes him one of the very longest serving members of the playing staff.
He’s one of three keepers that Sporting have on the books. Competition for the goalkeeper jersey is stiff at Sporting, who have the Portuguese national goalkeeper in their ranks as well. Though one of the older members of the squad (Born 20/08/1979), Cristiano provides solid competition to the first choice goalkeeper and is still a very useful player for the club to have, even though he wasn’t playing on the day I visited.
With the help of my friend and host Duarte translating, Cristiano tells me of how he got into Futsal. He was spotted as a kid playing in the street and was asked if he wanted to play in goal, as a Futsal keeper.
At the time, it came as a bit of a surprise to Cristiano as he had been playing as an attacker in those street games, but nevertheless he welcomed the challenge of being a Futsal goalkeeper – “at least being a Futsal goalkeeper I didn’t have to get dirty”, he smiles.
I’m was interested in why somebody would scout a kid playing in attack, with no obvious goalkeeping experience, to trial as a Futsal goalkeeper. It’s perhaps only something that the man who scouted him can answer, not something I’m going to be able to get to the bottom of. But whatever it was that somebody saw in him, 11 years of Cristiano being a professional player on the books of Sporting is ample evidence that they were on to something. In fact, Cristiano was called up to the Portuguese national futsal squad for games in December 2014, so it can be said that the decision to sign him all those years ago was a very good one indeed.
Attributes of a Futsal Goalkeeper
You don’t manage to stay as a professional on the books of a club like Sporting for 11 years without knowing a thing or two about the game, so I asked Cristiano to explain what he considers to be the main attributes of a good Futsal goalkeeper. Without hesitation, he highlighted three things:
- Flexibility – the first and most important attribute. He describes flexibility training as a key part of his daily routine. Your ability to spread your body wide and extend a leg across goal, sometimes uncomfortably so, is extremely important.
- Agility – a goalkeeper has to be fast and agile, able to move swiftly to adapt to the changing position of the play and, importantly, recover quickly after making a save.
- Bravery – anybody who has watched Futsal knows that you need a certain amount of bravery (or to the rest of us: ‘craziness’) to stand guarding the goal as balls whistle and fizz at you from all angles.
On the point of bravery, he tells of two chilling incidents from his playing past. One, where a collision with a player’s knee ended up breaking the area around his eye socket. The other, when a ball hit him in the face during a match leaving him temporarily blinded. It’s not for the feint-hearted, being a futsal keeper.
Agility and flexibility, not size
Cristiano is not a big guy. I doubt if he’s 6ft tall, so certainly wouldn’t be the sort of size you’d find among professional 11-a-side goalkeepers. I asked him what his view is on the size of goalkeepers in futsal and whether it is an advantage to be big.
He explained that there are some nations that favor player size, but the Portuguese favor flexibility and agility over this. The ability to be able to adapt your body and spread quickly and efficiently across the goal seems to be more prized.
It’s clear from watching these keepers that they are adept at dropping to the floor to cover the goal. But it’s a hard wooden floor and I’m curious as to what all the impact, particularly on the knees, has over time. Cristiano nods in acknowledgement that it’s perhaps one of the harder aspects of the game, but tells me that, at a good professional level, keepers can play on until anywhere between 32-40 years old.
Although the surface that they currently play on is a hard wooden court that you wouldn’t want your knees to be bashing down on too often, mercifully, back at their training facility closer to the centre of Lisbon they train on a floor with a bit more cushioning (similar to the flooring we looked at in Leeds Futsal Arena)
You would think that the preferable surface was the cushioned floor they train on, but Cristiano’s preference is for the floor they’re playing on today. The hard wooden surface is better performance-wise for him as a goalkeeper. Though it might not have the forgiveness on the knees that the other court offers, it allows a level of firmness and slide that helps him pull off his essential movements more easily. The softer, more grippy training court makes it a bit more difficult to glide along the floor to make a save.
Sporting is somewhat of a centre of excellence for goalkeepers, with the Portuguese national goalkeeper João Benedito being the current No.1 at the club. Like Cristiano he’s a really nice guy; very astute as well. An interesting character who has been completing a course in business studies these last couple of years. He’s somebody who my host, a sporting aficionado, hopes might perhaps be given the chance to apply his business brain by taking a management role within the Sporting organisation one day.
Spread of the game
Back to Cristiano, my brief interview is nearly up. He’s fascinated that somebody from the UK is so interested in futsal. I ask if he’s ever seen a really good British futsal player – he politely racks his brain trying to think of one. Sensing his struggle, I ask if he’s ever seen any British futsal players at all? Sheepishly, he answers “no”.
With the game being still somewhat embryonic in the UK with no more than a handful of players playing abroad, it’s not a surprise. It’s like that question of whether you’ve ever seen a baby pigeon. You often get bamboozled expressions – people know they must exist, but they’ve never see one, and in a lot of cases never even thought about it. “Maybe I’ll get to see one soon”, he says. Let’s hope so.