The University of Futsal: Where Italian Masterminds Are Shaped

When someone asks which is the most iconic place of Italian futsal, there may be three answers. First of all, Rome: because «calcetto» as we know it was born there (artificial turf fields where throw-ins with a soccer ball are made within 50’ of non-stoppage time) and from there the movement then spread throughout Italy, thanks to the flourishing of teams participating in the maximum competitions and coaches present in the area. Secondly, Abruzzo, home of many Scudetti and Cups thanks to Acqua&Sapone, Pescara and Montesilvano, also the only Italian UEFA Futsal Cup champion. Last, but not least, Veneto: the region that has seen the most Scudetti won by a single team (Luparense of Padua) and that over the years has both continued to churn out talents and to invest in a sport that has its unique flavour but with the bitter aftertaste of our own amateurism.

A dream place for coaches

Yet neither the Italian capital or Abruzzo in the centre, nor the northern area of ​​the peninsula are the most sought-after, dreamed places desired by a futsalero who intends to pursue a career as a professional coach. The futsal-FIGC union, despite numerous difficulties, has been able to bring out a positive note from this love/hate relationship. More than a note, a place. This place, a crossroads for the sporting life of thousands of both established professionals and ambitious amateurs, has a well-known name: Coverciano.

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Set at the foot of the Florentine hills leading to Fiesole, the Federal Technical Center of Coverciano has been associated with the game of football for almost sixty years. A football made of quality, training and professionalism. The first example of a football club’s own sports structure, the Federcalcio FTC was inaugurated on 6 November 1958 and is named after ‘Luigi Ridolfi’, the Florentine Vice President of the FIGC who made it possible to build it. It is here that the greatest aspiring minds of Italian football come together. Also here, future futsal engineers are called to contribute to the growth not only of the movement, but of the sport itself.

That’s right: called. Going to Coverciano is not a choice that someone opts to satisfy a personal need, it is not a destination for tourists or cheerful pilgrims. In Coverciano, someone goes there because is chosen. A professional training laboratory where the secrets of the coaching role are learned. The «Allenatore di Calcio a 5 di Primo Livello» certificate, which corresponds to the UEFA A license (UEFA B is obtained at the main regional committees of each region), is the highest certificate that can be received: it is the maximum level recognized by the FIGC regarding technical training for this discipline. At the end of the lessons, in fact, the positive passing of the exams ensures the qualification to lead any futsal team, including those of Serie A and Serie A2.

Exporting the Coverciano brand

Italian managers, despite the reputation of strategists who have collected their football colleagues over the time, are not so well known abroad. This is also due to the status of semi-professionalism (if not pure amateurism) that blocks the growth of the professionalization of the coaching role in our country. Nevertheless, Italian coaches are appreciated and admired all over the world. Even more than the coaches themselves, it is the school from which they have come to that have gained a considerable popularity over the years. Despite the existing Spanish and Brazilian hegemony throughout the world, it would be unthinkable that foreign coaches, journalists and supporters of futsal from other parts of the world don’t know who is Fulvio Colini, winner of the only UEFA Futsal Cup achieved by an Italian club (not counting the two European Futsal Tournament won respectively by Roma in 1990 and by BNL in 1996), and what Roberto Menichelli has achieved (European champion in 2014). Men who have represented our flag abroad with honor and pride.

Massimiliano Bellarte coached Belgian champions Halle-Gooik in 2016-2017 (image: ruvoviva.it).

In the last few years, the same products of our Futsal University have been sought and called by foreign teams because they trusted the quality of Italian coaches. Let’s start with Massimiliano Bellarte: he won everything in Belgium with Halle Gooik. Francesco Cipolla led Access in France for only 6 months, in which, however, he took the French team to a stable first place in the national championship. Sergio Gargelli is our own globetrotter, having travelled between Europe and Asia to share all the knowledge the Italian masters taught him. Silvio Crisari is Norway’s current head coach, who has been able to face openly in a recent double-header the actual European champions, Portugal, one of the most popular national teams. Andrea Bucciol, after successfully conducting the Record Bielsko Biala, led the Polish national team for two seasons, going closer to reach a historic European Championship qualification in 2014. Felice Mastropierro exported the BelPaese’s expertise to France, dragging Toulon into its first D1 Futsal final in France, being then named the best coach of the season. Lucio Solazzi has embarked on a truly unusual but absolutely fascinating trajectory, trying his luck with the Zambian national team, before landing in Qatar. Roberto Osimani, on the other hand, after spending 5 years on the Croatian bench, is living the dream of any hipster fan: he became the San Marino head coach.

A distinguished alumnus

Paradoxically, the most famous Coverciano futsal student in the world is not Italian. Reversing any prediction, leading a team full of talent but equally full of bad luck in international competitions, winning less than it could have achieved with the quality that his squads showed off from year to year, Diego Giustozzi won the 2016 World Cup at his debut on the bench of Argentina. Ever since he was a player, he could see that he would have a great coaching future. He guided the team and his companions with the charisma of a leader and with very clear ideas from a tactical point of view. «I was lucky enough to find myself in great clubs, sometimes preferring to be surrounded by good people instead of playing in upper crust teams. I always live this way, choosing someone’s behaviour and attitude before his technical qualities”, he revealed in an interview made in Italy, shortly after being appointed as technical director of the Selección albiceleste. It was in Rome that he grew up as a coach, beginning with Canottieri Lazio U18 in 2011 and then moving on to Real Rieti in 2013, where he took on the role of player-manager. After that, he returned home, to that River Plate he always carried in his heart, bringing with him all that Italy could have given to him.

Diego Giustozzi, during his time as Argentina’s head coach. Currently on ElPozo Murcia’s bench, he was formed in Coverciano (image: punto5.it).

The school’s structure

For the aspiring coaches entering this facility, there are two aspects of the Coverciano test. In the first part, they spend two weeks traveling to and from the venue. For four days a week, in the sweet warmth of the region, they must work hard and study, forming their methods, fine-tuning their unique ideologies and proving themselves worthy to pass a rigorous coaching exam. Then, they must pass the oral exams, led by the director of the managerial school, Roberto Menichelli, and his team. The potential manager is tested on various topics ranging from game tactics to team building and communication. The most perceptive part is the final thesis that every manager must present. This must be informative, exclusive and can be done on any topic related to futsal, chosen by the manager.

Few other football institutions around the world require a thesis of this kind – at least in such a deep way – that contributes to making Coverciano such a particular structure. In the oral exam, the manager must explain and defend their thesis, suggesting what makes it so valuable, how it can be useful in the modern game and how it could contribute to shaping its future. The thesis of the new coaches is one of the most interesting aspects of the Coverciano Master (as it’s called there). When Flavio Monteiro graduated in 2011, he was one of the first to present a paper on the «Zego System», the 4-0 formation made famous by the coach Antonio José Azevedo, who spent some years in the Serie A between 2003 and 2006 at the helm of Verona. His thesis intends to explain how to adopt this method during a game, what are the peculiarities of this system and how athletes should be trained in order to be shaped for the construction of the game through this system.

Roberto Menichelli, Italy’s head coach from 2009 to 2018. He led the Azzuri to victory at the 2014 Eurocup (image: figc.it).

In addition to the education of future trainers, the Centro Tecnico Federale (as it is its original name) also hosts space for relaxation. In addition to the soccer fields, there are tennis courts, a swimming pool, auditorium for seminars, meeting rooms, a library that includes all the great theses and the offices of the heads of Italian football. The most intriguing, however, is the Museo del Calcio, opened in 2000 and composed of six main rooms, inside which there are trophies and kits from the glorious past. This is a sparkling place that celebrates football above all else, protecting the past by looking to the future. A place that, over time, has been enriched even more with the section dedicated exclusively to the ItalFutsal, on the wishes of the president Andrea Montemurro. The first historical jerseys worn by Vinicius Bacaro, Gabriele Caleca, Andrea Rubei, Massimo Quattrini, later joined by the uniforms and gloves of Luca Bergamini and Gianfranco Angelini, shine in their own private display case.

Despite this, the Italian coaches still have a lot to prove to really enforce their own methodology and teachings, including (and above all) outside national borders. Currently, there are just a few ones that can show their achievements obtained in Europe and beyond, thanks to which the world has been able to know the flag bearers of our national futsal movement. However, despite a so poor trophy case, unfortunately due to the lack of attention reserved and investments made by the FIGC for our movement, there are few reasons to doubt this institution, the laboratory of the most prestigious minds. It is certainly only a matter of time before a new generation of Italian coaches come to the fore and bring futsal to levels never seen before.

Gabriele Caleca, Andrea Rubei, Vinicius Bacaro and Massimo Quattrini’s shirts, enshrined at the Football Museum in Coverciano (image: Divisione Calcio a 5).

Cover image: ilmessaggero.it

Author: Valerio Scalabrelli (Twitter: @ScalabroFS)

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