Monday 03 March 2014
Arsenal are a team renowned for an attacking style of play based on quick, incisive passing and technical prowess. So when the Gunners claimed the Under-11 and Under-12 titles in the 2014 Premier League National Futsal Finals last month, it might not have seemed a surprise since success at futsal requires many of the skills shown by the Arsenal first team. However, the Arsenal youngsters who won the tournament in Leeds are relative latecomers to this form of football and it is thanks to the Premier League's promotion of the sport that it has come about.
What is the EPPP?
The Elite Player Performance Plan is a Premier League initiative that seeks to create more and better homegrown players who are properly equipped to succeed at the highest level. Clubs have invested £340m over the first four years into addressing the fundamentals of player development: the quality of coaching, access to coaching contact time and the provision of support facilities and staffing to enable the highest possible level of player development
Under the Premier League's Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), futsal, which is a five-a-side game that helps develop close control, game intelligence and movement off the ball, has become an important part of the Games Programme since the plan's introduction in 2012.
The annual national finals that took place in Leeds, pitted the best teams in England against each other, having come through regional qualifiers, and the teams included many from Barclays Premier League clubs.
In both the U11 and U12 categories, Arsenal displayed attacking verve befitting of the senior team to finish second behind Chelsea after the eight teams each played one another. The top four teams in each division entered a knockout phase. In the Under-11s Arsenal beat Everton while Chelsea beat Manchester City, while in the Under-12 category, Chelsea went past Aston Villa, and Arsenal advanced past Fulham. In both finals, Arsenal came out on top against Chelsea while Aston Villa earned third position in the U12s and Manchester City claimed third spot in the U11 category.
Arsenal Under-11's coach Mark Ridgway hailed the impact of futsal and the decision to introduce it into the Youth Development Programme.
"I can't praise the Premier League highly enough, it all came from them," Ridgway said. "They have started to get a tournament culture into the young players.
"We had never played futsal before, and we don’t really do it. They only time we have done it is through the Premier League tournaments and it fits like a glove to our philosophy.
"Our kids have just taken to it. It’s technical, intelligence, quick decisions and pass-and-move really. Lots of people just think futsal is about dribblers but it is the pass and move, and the ones who do that quickly and break lines get success, so it has been fantastic."
Although the size of a futsal pitch and number of players on each side contrast significantly from the 11-a-side game the boys are aiming eventually to play in the Barclays Premier League, the game is once step on the boys' path to becoming skilful players and Ridgway says the skills picked up in futsal "transfer really easily" and "the top players adapt" to any format.
"Our kids have just taken to it. It’s technical, intelligence, quick decisions and pass-and-move"
"The main benefits are giving you football intelligence - the rotation of players, so the centre-half can end up at centre-forward - that learning how to rotate and when the ball changes hands are the main benefits of the sport," Ridgway said. "Everyone's involved when you've got the ball in futsal but when the other team have got the ball as well.
"So it's very much about an awareness of where everyone is on the pitch as well."
Ridgway called the tournament in the Leeds Futsal Arena a "fantastic experience", instilling a competitive element to the game for his players and the ability to learn from top players from other sides and the need for his charges to adapt their game.
"Playing teams that you don't normally play, the big northern teams, teams from the Midlands, was great in itself," Ridgway said. "The tournament conditions - learning to win games, how not to lose games, how to get points on the board, goal difference and being good tournament players - that is something that the Premier League is trying to introduce to our young players.
"It's totally different to Sundays when you’re playing tournament football. It's great for the kids."