Ahead of the inaugural Manchester International Futsal Tournament this weekend, we caught up with star player Stuart Cook to discuss this tournament, next season and the bigger picture of the growth of futsal in England.
How important is this event for the team to prepare for the new season?
In terms of preparation it will be a good chance to get the majority of last season’s squad together and get us on court and back into the swing of things. It will also be a chance for us to add some of the new players to the squad for the new season. It is still early in pre-season and primarily it will be a good physical test to see where players are at, we obviously want to perform well in what we hope will be a big crowd and another great event. There are some strong teams coming to take part and it is always nice to test yourself against unknown sides.
In the bigger picture, what can you see it doing for the development of the sport of futsal as a whole in England?
I think this is more important for this event than our preseason preparations . At Manchester we thrive off delivering high quality events and trying to ensure Futsal gets the attention and recognition it deserves. As a club we have a history of bringing clubs into to the city perform; the highlight a couple of season ago being UEFA Futsal Cup regulars Slov-Matic Bratislava. This was the logical next step and is great for futsal enthusiasts, both in Manchester and further afield to come and taste some high quality futsal and also how it is approached from different countries and cultures. I know there was a lot of interest in the tournament from teams abroad and staging it this year allows it to grow year on year.
The recent Kevin Davies vs Manchester Futsal exhibition game drew a good crowd and big media interest. How much educating do the public need about what futsal is?
I think anyone who has frequented an MFC game in recent years has an understanding of how futsal should be played. As a club we try to play the game in the right way and do this great sport justice on court. The exhibition game was great fun and entertaining, it undoubtedly drew some new faces into the Velodrome who were new to futsal.
Hopefully what they saw that day makes them want to return and see a faster, sharper more competitive game of futsal and this event is another great opportunity to do that.
Your skills have generated a real buzz online, with one of the papers featuring your video with a headline suggesting you are the best footballer in England. How much of a challenge and new way of thinking is this self expressionism with the ball, which is more typically associated with how Brazilians traditionally play than English?
I think even for a tabloid newspaper that headline may have been a little farfetched, but it is great that things like this are slowly hitting national outlets more regularly. Last season Luke Ballinger also appeared on Soccer AM’s Showboat section, so it shows it is starting to get noticed and is slowly filtering into the mainstream.
Playing futsal allows you to develop your ball control and thinking processes. Put yourself in tight situations more often and you will become better at getting out of them with various skills and techniques. A lot of traditional people would consider it to be showboating, but after years of playing and finding out what works in certain situations it becomes a natural part of a players thought process to use more advanced and difficult skills on a more regular basis. I wouldn’t paint a picture with just red, white and blue, if I had the ability to use green yellow and orange.
The reality is that people want to be entertained. Who doesn’t like watching Brazilians master the ball and occasionally embarrass an opponent? There is no reason why we can’t do it as well.
In countries like Spain and Brazil, futsal is a professional sport. You are also a senior member of the national team so have seen first-hand where the game sits in some of these countries. What potential lies in the game in England do you think?
I think the level of competition has improved in recent years. The emergence of Baku Utd has certainly raised the profile in England which can be a doubled edged sword. It is good in that we have attracted some high class players and coaches for everyone to work with and learn from, however I believe it has hindered the development of young home grown players because of a lack of playing time. I can’t tell you how proud I am of the young lads at Manchester following last season. They were thrown in at the deep end once we got let down by a number of our playing staff, and we travelled to many games with a squad of 8 or 9 often including 5 of our u19s. Despite some bad results along the way they performed admirably and proved in the FA Cup Final they can perform against the best team in England. If they can do that after six months with us I can’t wait to see how they get on in a few years. The problem is I don’t see enough teams having the faith in young players and giving them the chance to learn through performance.
The potential in England is only limited by ourselves. As a country we have to buy into what futsal has to offer. Not only as a development tool but also as a sport in its own right. It has to be done the right way or as we’ve seen so often before in the beautiful game of football, potential can be wasted a lot easier than it can be fulfilled.
With the building of the profile of the game that these evens do, as a player, what does it mean to be creating a legacy and building a future?
I’ve been involved in futsal for almost six years now and I will openly admit I had no clue what it is was until I got asked to play for England in 2009. But I have never looked back and will continue to play as long as I can. I love the enthusiasm everyone in the sport has. It's infectious and these are the people who will build futsal and hopefully get it the recognition it deserves in the future. I’m just along for the ride and hopefully to entertain people along the way. Seeing the young kids come to our games and spending time with them afterwards teaching (and learning) new skills with them is great. Events like these that help just one more person get involved and hooked it makes it all worthwhile.
How involved are senior players with the club?
I think at Manchester we have tried a few different ways in recent years to get the best outcome for the club and primarily it has worked well. I think you only have to look at performances on court to see that. Simon (the Club Chairman) puts a lot of time into the running and organisational side of the club and the senior players like myself, Sam and Ilya appreciate all his work behind the scenes. The club is important to us all and none more so than on the playing side, we have a big input into the direction we want the club to go and the way we want to play on court and the atmosphere around the club, which is the most important. The atmosphere around training and games and the personnel is the most important. We are all friends off the court and that then carries itself on court and brings out the best of people. If players or coaches don’t buy into that, then it doesn’t work. A lot of last season was spent integrating the youth players into the first team squad and making them apart of that friends first philosophy.
It is difficult to find an outstanding candidate who has the knowledge and experience to come and take us to the next level on court. Between myself, Ilya and Sam we have a pretty good understanding of the game and the direction we want to go as a club. We believe that, for now at least, we can continue to move MFC forward and close the gap on Baku. Our Head Coach Keith Brady provides that much needed focal point and organisation you need at training and on match days. We have regular meetings where we discuss players, training sessions, game plans and also have introduced some individual and team video analysis as well. Between us, we form a management team, all pushing in the same direction.
You can watch Stuart and the rest of the Manchester Futsal Club squad as they take on Estonian side FC Cosmos on Saturday 15 August in the 6pm kick-off. Tickets are available via www.manchesterfutsaltournaments.com or you can pay on the door (£5 adults and £1.50 under 16s) Follow events from the Manchester International Futsal tournament via twitter @FutsalMcr or join the conversation #FutsalMCR
Written by Matt Fejos