Reflecting on what we achieved in Lithuania a little less than 6 weeks ago, my overriding emotion is a sense of pride. Extremely proud of every single player in the squad (including those who did not travel but contributed so much during the preparations), how they prepared themselves in a short space of time for an intense week of competition, a situation that was unfamiliar to all. Similarly, very proud of the staff team coming together to inspire and nurture a capable group of young players, to not only compete on the international stage, but help them enjoy the experience in the pressure cooker that is international futsal. Enjoyment and freedom are two values we want to embed within this team and the identity of future national teams where players feel a strong sense of belonging and a freedom to express themselves.
Moreover, proud of the many people in the background (too many to name) who have supported England Futsal in recent times to enable these special young lads the opportunity to represent their country. It was an equally important moment for the staff who have dedicated many years of service to the game, and we will always be eternally grateful to those that helped make it happen. Lastly, immensely proud of all the support from across the England Futsal community that was shown. A passionate community where players, coaches, club volunteers, parents and administrators have truly got behind the team, and hopefully they have made you feel proud too. Thank you!
On the court our focus was very much on ourselves as we had limited insight regarding our opponents. We felt it was important to enthuse and excite the players with a game plan that would unleash their potential as a group to compete in preliminary round. From a national team’s perspective although it has only been a short space of time, we are starting to lay early foundations around how we wish to play and how we wish to coach, something we will continue to evolve with players and staff as one. Promoting perceptual awareness and an adaptability to problem solve in the moment under pressure has been a core part of player development over the last 2-3 months to prepare individuals both in the short and long term. Moreover, ball retention is important to us. Not just valuing the ball but demonstrating purposeful intent in our attacking play, encouraging the players to demonstrate their technical proficiency that we hope motivates them to perform and inspires the next generation. Alongside a long term aim to control futsal matches through possession, we have also spoken about developing an out of possession game that is destructive and built around clear principles.
Needless to say, to still go and win 3 games out of 3 in Lithuania was hugely rewarding. We were confident this feat was possible, and to follow through and do it was wonderful. On a personal level the week in Lithuania ranks as one of my favourite times in futsal as a player or coach in almost 20 years of being involved. The jubilation was a massive high and these lads deserved it for all their commitment to the sport over many years supported brilliantly by their clubs and coaches. They encountered 3 very different games, and I felt the team adapted to each challenge admirably from both a tactical and psychological perspective.
However, within about 30 minutes of the final whistle I was already thinking about the next challenge, setting up the team to thrive in the main round against hosts Italy, Turkey, and the Czech Republic. This will be a step-up in quality playing against opponents who are used to competing at main round events at both U19s and senior level. In preparing for the main round, we have had greater access to study our opponents but equally they will have had the chance to analyse us. Our aim is to do something special in Italy, however, it is important to remember U19s competition is about creating an exceptional talent development environment that fosters the longer term and holistic development of young players exposing them to a range of experiences as individuals and as a team. I very much believe many of these players will be a big part of English Futsal in years to come and it is important we fuel for that journey as much as the next few weeks.
With that said we have continued to develop our game plan expanding the players in game knowledge around how we would impose ourselves on our opponents with the ball and exploring where we can disrupt and set problems out of possession for our opponents. I have great confidence in the technical attributes of the players, and we will be encouraging them to play with positivity, purpose and emotional intelligence. We have said from day 1 to aim high, set your own standards and challenge each other and collectively to break new ground as we look to establish an aspirational culture where every time a player pulls on the England shirt, they feel immense pride and sheer excitement to go and do the thing they love – play futsal.
I started by reflecting on my emotions post Lithuania. Now looking ahead to Italy, the feeling that comes to mind is one of ‘excitement’. Excited to see how these young men perform once again on the international scene and consider how their performances will excite future generations of young boys and girls to dream to play futsal for England.
To conclude I have no doubt our Italian adventure will be memorable. It will also be another significant step in continuing to reset a new direction of travel for England Futsal and the national teams working with the futsal community to embed an identity about what it is to be an England International that we are all proud of and super excited to see unfold, where English Futsal writes new chapters reaching new heights.
England U19s Head Coach