Star-studded Premier Futsal to kick-off in Chennai

Premier Futsal, which was launched by Portugal football legend Luis Figo, is a 10-day football event that will be played between six teams representing major cities of the country.

The Nehru Stadium in Chennai is all geared up for the Premier Futsal tournament.   -  B. Jothi Ramalingam

Marquee players Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes at the press conference in Chennai.   -  R. Ragu

From left: Hernan Crespo, Falcao, Ronaldinho, Xavier Britto, President Premier Futsal, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Michel Salgado at the press conference.   -  R. Ragu

What is it that makes football the beautiful game? Is it the ability of 11 players to work together as a team to outwit the opposition using a plan crafted by their coach? Antonio Conte’s Italy certainly won a lot of hearts by doing just that in the recently concluded EUROs. Or is it the individual — his/her ability to dribble past defenders with ease? Or score through a bicycle-kick after latching on to a team-mate's cross?

Futsal, a five-a-side football match often played indoors, certainly seems to have its roots in the latter school of thought. The game is fast and relies on players’ ‘on-the- ball’ abilities. It is immensely popular in South American countries while also being well-liked in Portugal and Spain.

> Premier Futsal: All you need to know

This popular version of football has finally reached India. Premier Futsal, which was launched by Portugal football legend Luis Figo, is a 10-day football event that will be played between six teams representing major cities of the country.

The league, in association with Futsal Association of India, also launched a talent programme across various cities to scout for futsal players. The tournament will feature some of football’s legends such as Ronaldinho, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Michel Salgado, Hernan Crespo and futsal star Falcao.

So what’s the fuss about?

Premier Futsal is a semi-professional, private league and is in collaboration with Futsal Association of India (FAI), which falls under the Asociación Mundial de Futsal (AMF) — the international governing body for the game. Globally, the AMF and FIFA co-exist and a lot of players including the likes of Ronadinho and Luis Figo, started their careers through futsal.

“Back in Portugal I have played futsal extensively growing up which instilled quick thinking, skills and close control,” said Figo at the inauguration event.

But the All India Football Federation (AIFF) — India’s football governing body — has come out strongly against the futsal organisers, claiming they have no right to conduct the event.

“AIFF has informed FIFA and all its stakeholders that this is an unauthorised and unofficial Futsal League since AIFF is also the governing body for Futsal in India. Such unauthorised and unofficial events can result in unnecessary issues, especially integrity issues. All our stakeholders understand that and will act accordingly. We do not need to take recourse to legal action,” said AIFF general secretary Kushal Das.

Promoting football

After initially announcing that the tournament will be conducted across eight cities (Delhi and Hyderabad in addition to the cities with teams), the organisers decided to reduce the event to two cities — Chennai and Mapusa (Goa). But most importantly, the star players have arrived in Chennai and the inaugural edition of Premier Futsal will kick-off on Friday at the Jawaharlal Nehru indoor stadium.

What it will do for football, which is still a secondary sport in the cricket-hungry nation, remains to be seen though. But the overall focus seems clear — improve and popularise not just futsal but also football — as echoed by Manchester United legends Giggs and Scholes at a press conference on Thursday.

“It’s a nice and great way for me to promote not only futsal but also football, which is a growing sport in the country,” said Giggs.

Chennai leg:

July 15: Game 1: Chennai v Mumbai; Game 2: Goa v Kolkata.

July 16: Game 1: Mumbai v Kochi; Game 2: Kolkata v Bangalore

July 17: Game 1: Kochi v Chennai; Game 2: Bangalore v Goa