Can futsal help Scottish football flourish?

Barca heroes Messi, Iniesta and Xavi all have a grounding in futsal
Barca heroes Messi, Iniesta and Xavi all have a grounding in futsal

Scotland will play their first home futsal international on Wednesday evening.

The Scots meet Gibraltar in Perth in the five-a-side version of the game, which is credited with cultivating the intricate skills of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar.

The game is growing in popularity in this country and national coach Mark Potter is hopeful it can benefit the wider Scottish game.

"The ultimate aim would be to develop players who can make Scottish football clubs more successful in Europe," Potter told BBC Scotland.

A key difference between futsal, which originated in Uruguay in the 1930s, and the brand of five-a-side traditionally played in Scotland is the smaller, heavier ball used, which helps players master control and touch.

"I think the player development and the skill levels required provide a good synergy with the outdoor game, especially now when the entertainment levels expected of the top players are higher than they used to be," added Potter.

"Xavi, Iniesta, Messi and Ronaldo have all attributed their skills to playing futsal as youngsters. Brazil have many thousands of players who don't play any football until 15, 16 - they grow up playing futsal - and Brazil are recognised as producing some of the most skilful players in the world.

"There's no reason to suggest a programme that starts now couldn't produce world-class skill in 10, 15, 20 years - there's no question this is not going to be an overnight fix or that futsal is the panacea for all things that ail the sport.

"If it can help and produce one player then perhaps it's worth pursuing."

Scotland's futsal squad
Scotland's futsal squad are ready for their first home matches

The national futsal team, which was only formed last year, now comes under the Scottish Football Association's Performance umbrella, headed by Brian McClair.

That, according to Potter, "would suggest the performance department sees futsal as having its own niche. By providing an aspirational forum for young players to grow into, hopefully we attract more people to the sport.

"If they can come and learn skills that make them more rounded football players and they can play for the 11-a-side team, that would be the ultimate aim."

Almost 700 adults play in six futsal leagues across the country, while the first internationals were played last year in the preliminary round for futsal's own version of Euro 2016.

The fledgling Scots team were beaten 13-0 by Sweden and 6-1 by both Israel and Armenia and while Gibraltar are footballing minnows, Potter warns they are "considerably ahead of us" in futsal terms.

"They've been playing futsal for a lot longer than we have in Scotland. The vast majority of the squad will play in the lower leagues in Spain and are therefore a considerable challenge," he added.

"We go to the next European Championship preliminary round in January 2017. We need to play games, we need to develop the squad and allow them to play against better opposition."

The squad, which features the former Hibernian player Ross Chisholm and Scott Chaplain, the ex-Albion Rovers midfielder, takes on Gibraltar on Wednesday and Thursday evening at the Bells Sports Centre in Perth.

Futsal is played indoors with a small, heavy ball
Futsal is played indoors with a small, heavy ball

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