Portugese football legend Luis Figo was in Chennai as a part of the inaugural season of Premier Futsal. The former Barcelona and Real Madrid player is the director of the five-a-side football tournament which features football legends such as Ronaldinho, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Michel Salgado.
Figo, who holds the second highest number of assists in La Liga history, spoke to the press about his long-term plans for the futsal event in India. Edited excerpts:
Question: You are the president of Premier Futsal. Can you explain to us what the vision of the tournament is? What do you expect to see in the coming years?
This is the first platform that has been set up in India which involves professional football players, professional futsal players and Indian talent. We have a long-term goal with the project and hope people will support us. India has a great a passion for sports and a great population; therefore it is the best market for us.
You played a major role in convincing the star players to take part in the competition. Did you face any difficulty? What was the selling point? What is so attractive about India?
The most difficult part was to find the players who were free. They all have their own tight schedules and programs. These are people with their own lives. But I think it was really ok. All were very quick and positive with their response. Some already had prior commitments but otherwise we got a really good feedback.
Can we expect to see Luis Figo in action during the event?
(Laughs) You know the only problem is that I am the President and it will be a conflict of interest. If I play for a team and they win, people will say that his team won because he is in charge. I would certainly love to play, of course.
Considering that futsal is a fast paced game and played in such a short period, is there any plan to have more seasons in a year? Or are you happy with one?
We are looking to have another season in January. That is, if we don’t have any issues. We are here to promote football and our focus is just that. We are trying to make this event work. This is a private investment and we don’t want any kind of issues with anyone. We just want to promote football.
How does Premier Futsal league in India compare to similar leagues in other countries, especially those in West Asia?
There are a lot of leagues popping up in different parts of the world. I know about one in Kuwait and Doha. These are all private investment; all with the aim of developing the sport. It brings the game to people’s attention and I think that is very positive. Good things are being done in the name of sports everywhere, so it is definitely positive.
There are freestylers also taking part in Premier Futsal. Is there a long-term goal in developing freestylers in India?
The main goal is to develop Futsalers. If we can contribute to additional forms it is definitely good. But the focus first on what is the main concept. That is definitely the priority.
Modern football has become very defensive with teams shutting out opponents. Do you think something like futsal will help bring back that attacking part to the game?
Futsal is a different type of game. In football the space and the concept is largely different. So you can’t really mix the two. Some footballers take to futsal to improve certain skills and techniques. But these are two different games. That’s why some professionals can’t really play well in football and why we can’t play that well against professional futsal players.
Sepp Blatter once called India the ‘sleeping giants of football’. You are a close friend of Gianni Infantino who is the current president. Do you by any chance know what his plans or what FIFA’s plans are for the Asian market in the near future?
I cannot answer that question. You have to ask Infantino that. He is the FIFA President. The India federation is a member of FIFA and the mission of the federation will to be to create many competitions in this country and develop a great atmosphere for the sport. The plan for this new era of FIFA is more transparency, more democracy and to encourage people to take up the sport in different parts of the world.
The number of teams for the tournament was cut down from eight to six due to shortage of time. Can we expect an expansion in the coming seasons?
It can be eight or 12 or whatever we like. We hope to expand and probably even make it a larger format. We hope to do better. But sometimes there are issues. But we are always trying to improve. Life is like that — if you don’t you don’t learn. We hope to improve and make futsal even better.
We also hope to start Luis Figo football academies soon here. I started my academies in China 2 years ago with licensed coaches. Now we are trying to see if there is some interest in India. But I have to find good partners and who understands my philosophy and who want to develop and promote the game in a similar way.