Football in any form is about space. Finding a teammate in space, creating space for yourself and creating space for others. It was because of space – or rather a lack of it – that players had to take the full-size game and shrink it down to smaller teams and smaller versions of the game. In 1930’s Uruguay and Brazil, locals had started what would become a full-blown love affair with football, but due to a lack of open space in their overpopulated cities, a variant of football that could be played simply requiring less space was created. The world hasn’t looked back.
Today, whether it’s Futsal, Calcetto or 5-a-side, football is played in many variants of a small-sided game, some of which have their own regulatory bodies and even its own world cup. Unlike it’s bigger, older cousin, the real passion lies not in pro stadiums but on the millions of courts, halls, cages or pitches on which it is played all over the planet.
That’s the key. Smaller-sided football is all about the player; the player who leaves work, heads for the pitch and who, for the duration of their game is free to express skills, express flair and to express a passion for a sport they love. The kitbag is opened, the shoes are laced up and from there – whatever the levels of skill on show – anything can happen.
The global appeal of the small-sided game is truly astonishing. Fly into Rio de Janeiro airport and you’ll see a small pitch adjacent to the runway, walk through the urban sprawl of London of an evening and you’ll hear the deafening crash of man and ball against the fenced pitches that symbolize the uniquely robust English game. In Barcelona the game is about beautiful patterns, in Rio it is all about individual trickery. The differences and nuances of how the game is played in its different locations are evident but so is one key factor, a devotion and infatuation for their version of the sport. After identifying the regional nuances of small-sided football throughout the world, Nike has designed its most versatile small-sided shoe, the Nike5 Gato Street. Beginning April 1 the Nike5 Gato Street is available globally.
TOKYO, JAPAN Nowhere in the world does hustle and bustle like Tokyo. Space is tight and lives are busy but the locals have found time to embrace the small-sided game in a big way. In fact, where else in the world would you find a Futsal game being played at midnight on the roof of a department store? It’s mad, it’s Tokyo.
The Game Having hosted the 2002 big finale, Tokyo was the centre for white-hot football fever and whilst the global eleven-a-side game is huge, those who want to play want to play Futsal.
While the work ethic that Tokyo’s residents live by is evident on the city’s pitches, there is also a desire to create and inspire. Beat your opponent with a trick; show off your quick feet with a turn. It’s allowed. In fact in some games you’ll find that physical contact is banned. It’s all about the ball and what you can do with it.
Style The Brazilian game has long influenced the Japanese football fan. In Tokyo, the small-sided game is Futsal with a Samba slant.
Surface Space is at a premium but newer courts are artificial turf, otherwise an old tennis court will do.
Essentials The Nike5 Gato Street’s design and it’s underfoot technology encourages imagination and in Tokyo it pays to be different.
Climate Rain, humidity, heat. You’ll find them all in Tokyo.
Transportation Games are played after work and so it’s the Subway or overground train for the players.
Food Forget raw fish, on Tokyo’s Futsal pitches the players are chewing on raw lemon!
Kickoff Despite the weather, from the rain, heat and intense humidity, small-sided football is a year-round affair.
BARCELONA, SPAIN Barcelona screams football. The city’s eleven-a-side team is among the best in the world but its smaller cousin, known as Futbol Sala or Futsal, is also a passion to thousands. This isn’t just a kickabout either. It’s enjoyed at amateur level, but the pro Futbol Sala is a national obsession, covered live on TV and attracting crowds of up to 6,000.
The Game Futbol Sala is a Spanish passion. Pro games are live on TV, the stands are packed and in Barcelona the game and that passion are everywhere.
It’s everything the locals love about football. Fast and skillful, it demands masterful control and it rewards trickery. Beat your man, pass, move, receive, shoot. Like everything good about Barcelona, it’s beautiful.
Style This is Barcelona, aspirations are high. You can’t play any other way than with artistic precision. Be quick, be clever, be the best.
Surface Hard. Tarmac or indoor. It doesn’t get quicker than this.
Essentials The Nike5 Gato Street’s design will aid your touch, its traction outsole will maximize your speed. Speed and touch, the Barcelona way.
Climate This is the Mediterranean and it’s hot. Your footwear needs to be durable and breathable. Think sun, sea, sand and football no matter how hot it gets.
Transportation Cars and scooters will be parked near pitches but for most it’s Barcelona’s Metro.
Food No Catalan would be seen dining out before 9:30 pm so a pre-match meal is essentially lunch for the Spaniards. Quality fish, good meat, fresh vegetables and native olive oil define small-sided craving.
Kickoff The courts are busiest during the regular football season (September – May) but in summer it’s time to head to the beach.
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRASIL To Futsal purists, Rio de Janeiro is the epicenter. Arrive in the city and three things greet you. Carnival, religion and football. These are the holy trinity to Rio’s inhabitants, but where does one begin and the other finish? The lines are blurred. Football is religion. Football is carnival.
The Game Brazil is the current Futsal World Champion; walk the streets of Rio and you’ll see why. A game can happen anytime, anywhere and it’s all about flair.
Look closely at the players, they do things differently here. For example, the sole of the foot. It’s not just for standing on. You’ll see it used to control the ball and pass the ball. Prepare to be amazed.
Style This is serious. Futebol de Salão is about technique and skill. A lot of skill. Outrageous control, physics defying tricks and of course, extreme individuality.
Surface Futsal was created in Brazil and Uruguay in the 1930’s due to a lack of available pitches. Today the serious stuff is played on hard indoor courts.
Essentials The game in Rio is about improvisation and the Nike5 Gato Street understands that. It’s tailor made for the street with its versatile outsole.
Climate It can rain hard in Rio but for the most part it’s hot. Even if you’re on the beach though, there will be a game going on despite the temperatures.
Transportation The traffic is bad, don’t drive, you’ll miss kick-off. The Rio Metro and numerous buses are your best bet.
Food Like Futsal, eating in Rio is a social thing. You’ll be barbequing with teammates in a relaxed atmosphere after the game.
Kickoff In Rio, you eat everyday, you drink everyday and you play Futsal everyday.
LONDON, ENGLAND England’s capital is littered with football memories and tradition but look around, go deeper into the city and you’ll discover football is evolving. 5-a-side is popular in the playgrounds and in specialist fives locations, and getting even bigger. The home of football is undergoing a redesign.
The Game London doesn’t give the small-sided game the professional platform that Futsal enjoys in South America and southern Europe but there are now more people playing 5-a-side than the traditional 11-a-side game. There are no airs and graces, there’s no pretence, just tough, honest football. You’ll be expected to work for your teammates, keep possession, shoot on sight. Sure try a trick but prepare to be tackled, hard.
Style Fast, intense, committed. Everything you’d expect from the English game, just magnified. Not for the faint hearted.
Surface State of the art artificial turf pitches are everywhere. It is among Britain’s fastest growing sports.
Essentials Like London, the Nike5 Gato Street is smart but tough. That durability is going to come in handy.
Climate You can count on rain but that won’t stop Londoners. It’s game on, whatever the weather.
Transportation The underground at night is full of players, often still in their kit, making their way home after a busy day of school or work grind followed by a game of fives.
Food It’s isotonic drinks, bananas and mineral water before the game but fast food rules after the action.
Kickoff In London, 5-a-side happens all year round with winter and summer leagues.