From having semi-professional players to signing the best stars. From adding several descents to being the rival that everyone aspires to beat in the elite. From playing with the stands almost empty to living magical afternoons with a flag up to the flag. In less than 20 years, the FC Barcelona futsal team has gone from being a secondary field to becoming one of the club’s most successful benchmarks. After lifting the UEFA Futsal Champions League in April, they are already the section that has been proclaimed European champion the most times in the last decade. And if they are imposed on the play-off of the National Futsal League, qualifying rounds that can be followed on LaLigaSportsTV from this wednesdaywill complete a historic series of titles in 2022. A radical transformation reconstructed by several key players in the progression of the squad and also responsible, in part, for having made Spanish futsal and its domestic competition a world benchmark.
When winning a title was “a very distant dream”
Jordi Torras came to the Barça futsal section as a youth, in 1996. He was 16 years old and the illusion of a lifelong culé, raised on the successes of the Dream Team by Johan Cruyff. However, when shortly after he was promoted to the first team, he ran into a different reality than that of that mythical group led by the Dutchman. “Most of the players did not get paid. I helped my father in the carpentry in the morning, I studied in the afternoon and at night I traveled an hour there and another hour back. [desde Sant Vicenç dels Horts, a unos 20 kilómetros de Barcelona] to train”, he remembers. A few steps from the Camp Nou, in the Palau, another football was being played that the fans had rather forgotten. “Except Els Dracs [una peña de animación], who were always there, we filled the stands with friends and family. Sometimes we didn’t even reach 300 people.”
At that time lifting a title was, in his words, “a very distant dream”. From the early nineties to the first two thousand they oscillated between the two highest categories. When they were up, they fought not to go down. And when they were down, it always took them several campaigns to get back up. “We looked enviously at handball, basketball, hockey because we had a lower budget and that made us lose the opportunity to bring in signings,” concludes the Barça player.
Despite the fact that it had been one of the members of the first edition of the National League, created in 1989, the club failed to position itself in a relevant position in a time of growth for futsal: the first television broadcasts, the entry of investors and sponsors, the organization of continental championships, the growing presence of fans. While Spain was making a name for itself in the sport, winning the 2000 and 2004 World Cups, Torras decided in 2003 to pack his bags and leave in search of opportunities. It would take him seven years to return to his house, where he would return from 2010 to 2014 as one of the reference players on the national scene and where he became last May, years after his retirement, in the manager sport that today manages the section from the offices.
Building a winning team
Barça’s direction began to change in the 2006-2007 season. An increase in the budget, thanks to the incorporation of an official sponsor for the first time, allowed the signing of the experienced coach Marc Carmona and Javi Rodríguez, named the best player in the world two years ago. Although success was not achieved from one day to the next, the first great triumphs did appear suddenly. In 2011, the azulgranas went from having only three Catalunya Cups and one Recopa in the showcases to signing a triplet —League, Spanish Cup and Copa del Rey— that broke the dominance of ElPozo Murcia and Boomerang Interviú (now Movistar Inter) , the two teams that shared the trophies from 2002 to 2010.
That moment of splendor coincided with the arrival of Sergio Lozano, one of the key players in the section’s history. The scorer says that he signed for the Catalans in 2010 with the idea of joining a winning project and to date that has been the case: after leaving on loan for the first season to Caja Segovia, The Buffalo —nicknamed for his powerful shot, his explosiveness and his physical strength— has lifted more than twenty titles, of which he remembers with special affection the first continental crown of 2012. In the individual, moreover, the now 33-year-old captain He was designated in 2013 as the best player in the world and in 2019 he became the top scorer in the section. Some distinctions that have more merit if possible for the three knee ligament tears that he has suffered in his career. “Every time I’ve fallen I’ve gotten back up. That is also the mentality of the team”, affirms this Madrid native with a Blaugrana heart, who due to his medical history has had to adapt a less offensive role on the track.
Led by Lozano and other international figures such as Wilde, Igor or Fernandao, futsal became increasingly relevant among the Barça fans. In the penultimate match of the play-off 2017 league game, the Palau registered a record attendance with 6,923 spectators. A demonstration of affection, always grateful for a Lozano amazed by the support of the fans and by the greatness of the shield, which in turn brought the pressure to always win and to do it through an attractive game. Something that has not always been possible –after winning the league consecutively in 2011, 2012 and 2013, it took them six seasons to win it again– due to the level of a domestic competition that is among the best on the continent, as evidenced by the fact that that since 2002 there have only been four finals of the highest European competition without a Spanish representative.
A relay to continue with the triumphs
As of 2019, Barça opened a new winning cycle by becoming national and continental champion. But it is in this 2022 when the section can sign one of the best years in its history. After winning the Spanish Cup, the Super Cup and the UEFA Futsal Champions League, a victory in the decisive stage of the league, to which they arrive as favorites after finishing the regular phase with a 10-point advantage over the second-placed team, would be the finishing touch gold to a season where only the Copa del Rey has escaped.
The qualifiers that begin this Wednesday will be special for two players: the Brazilian Leandro Esquerdinha, who is retiring at the end of the season, and the young Bernat Povill, the first Barça youth player to have risen directly to the first team without a prior transfer to another team from the professionalization of the section. “I had hardly even trained with the elders and they called me to pack my suitcase: ‘You are going to the final phase of the Champions League in Riga [capital de Letonia]’. I couldn’t believe it,” says the 20-year-old.
The player from Olesa de Montserrat, about 40 minutes from Barcelona, is also one of the first to have been trained since childhood in the Barça factory, which did not have its first youth football team until the 1990s and in recent years It has been reinforced based on other talents trained abroad. Povill arrived at a young age and has gone through all the categories – counting on facilities such as transportation, which did not exist before – until he found a place in the elite, in a locker room that he shares with the idols he admired from a very young age, unlike pioneers like Torres.
“When I was little, the games were not shown on television yet. I started playing football and following the Barça football team and it wasn’t until later that I switched to futsal”, recalls the latter about the absence of references and the facilities that kids of formative age have today.
After finishing his second stage as a player, Torras is happy to be involved again in the club of his life with the functions of manager general and quarry manager. In his opinion, Barça has given itself a structure and a professionalization that will allow us to see more and more talent raised at home emerge. Also at the national level, he says, he observes a growth in the number of boys and girls who join a sport where the future seems guaranteed. “In my time, Brazilians were highly sought after in teams. Now the teams are reinforced with players from here. That is a sign that something has changed.”