On the Futsal court for a goal keeper there is no hiding place. Sometimes it can feel like the fate of a game rests on your shoulders. One wrong decision and the ball sails past you into the back of the net and your team falls behind.
If you keep a clean sheet you become a hero, but sometimes you’re only remembered for the goals you didn’t save. This kind of psychological drain used to be an ongoing battle for Manchester Futsal Club goalkeeper Cristiano Pinto.
“If I were to speak honestly, I wasn’t enjoying playing Futsal games. I loved the training aspect but there was so much pressure when it came to game day. Every thought possible would be running through my mind about how the game would play out, so much so that I would barely sleep the night before a game”.
“It has taken me a while to learn and to get into a more productive mindset where I have learnt that, to me now playing, I know that the psychology of the game is just as important as the physicality”.
Hailing from Porto, Portugal, Cristiano moved to the UK five years ago. After a short spell living in Reading he moved to Manchester a little over three years ago.
“It was a friend that helped bring Manchester as a plan to me, she was moving here to study at University and I found out that I could study here to, but then also she also helped me to bring all my family here to live in Manchester to”
“I like Manchester because it’s all about football, my family don’t speak about anything else just football! No problems or anything just football talk all the time so why not come here?”.
But the move wasn’t without reservations.
“I was a little bit scared because I was worried about the accent and that I wouldn’t be able to understand people!”he says with a laugh “But now the Mancunians sounds normal to me and my English has improved since moving here”.
Cristiano talks both with a glint in his eye but also a tinge of sadness in his voice about his pathway to joining Manchester Futsal Club and that friend who helped him out.
“I didn’t know the opportunity was there for me to be able to do this”
“I’m always grateful for that friend as she made Manchester available for us and that was the best move in my life, moving to Manchester. Back in Reading I had given up playing Futsal and without moving to Manchester I don’t know if I would have gone back to playing again and I wouldn’t be on the path I am now”.
“I wouldn’t be here playing for this team that I love, living in Manchester with all of my family around me, and enjoying what I do every day. I’m living the life I want to, I’m waking up every day putting on my tracksuit and training and teaching”.
“I think I’ve also grown a lot since moving here, I’ve matured a lot more. I hope that she reads this because I probably didn’t tell her enough how much she changed my life for the better”.
We meet to chat at Manchester Central Library, a place that holds a lot of memories for Cristiano.
‘This was my second home for three years while I was studying at university’
“I started my Sports Science degree because I’ve always wanted to be a coach. I’ve been playing since I was 6 years old and I feel like I’m not just teaching the skills but the experience behind it. I call goalkeeping a different sport, it’s more like a sport within a sport”
“A goalkeeper’s life is isolating sometimes. I train differently to the team, I warm up differently the way I prepare physically and mentally is different to what they do. If a player misses a pass it’s not too bad, but from a goalkeeper people expect perfection, but perfection is impossible. In your mind you know this, but how do you go onto a pitch knowing this? How do I meet people’s expectations, if their expectation is perfection? It’s impossible to achieve so how do you motivate them and how would you feel calm to meet someone else’s expectation even though you know it’s impossible and that is the daily life for a goalkeeper, all these thoughts go through your head and when I am coaching my lads I am honest with them, because I know that they aren’t just goalkeepers, they are people too”.
“I’m able to speak to them and make the lads understand that I understand what they feel because I’m a goal keeper myself and that it’s not as easy as people think it is. They have another voice in their head that makes them scared of being on the pitch, I have found the solution for that in my goalkeepers so they don’t fear as much”
As we continue to talk Cristiano reflects on his Futsal career growing up and the experiences that he went through:
“All my life I had no one that understood me, I wasn’t able to speak to anyone, even the goalkeeping coach I had didn’t understand what was going on in my head, and why I could perform well in training but I didn’t perform well in games. I actually preferred to just train and not play games because I felt free in training as there wasn’t as much pressure and I was able to enjoy it. So much so that I would get to a game and preform not as well because of all the mental pressure that I put on myself. It was hard as well because the coaches they didn’t understand that it was something in my head they just thought I wasn’t good enough and actually I proved to them that I was good enough and it was them who wasn’t good enough because they weren’t giving enough support”
This is another reason why he studied his degree and continued to learn more about training and coaching methods:
“That’s why sports psychology is such a big thing now. Any sport isn’t just a physical battle but a mental one too. Even if you are physically unfit you can be mentally strong”
“It’s easy to say oh I’m nervous but what does it mean, what does that feel like within yourself, because everyone speaks to themselves so what do you tell yourself when you’re nervous. Do you say you’re going to fail or you’re going to let a goal in concede a goal? Do you fear what people’s reaction is going to be so all of those things?”
“I make my goalkeepers talk to me about these things, so that they feel more comfortable within themselves and then the results are shown on the court”
“And now when I play Futsal myself I am a much different player because I have been through all the worst-case scenarios in my head, such as what happens if I don’t save this etc, and for me the number one indicator of if a game has gone well is if I finish it and I feel happy and I enjoyed it. In the past I have actually preferred just to train at clubs and not play matches because I wasn’t enjoying it. Now playing with Manchester Futsal Club my script for the game is I want to have fun and try and be the best I can be and that’s what my goal for the game is, regardless of if I concede 20 goals or save 15 goals my first question is did I have fun? And if I did then I’m a happy boy!”
When I ask him about his Futsal idols and who he looks up to his answer is not the usual of famous well-loved players but someone closer to home
“My hero is Dan my 14-year-old goalkeeper that I coach, he is my idol! I learnt so much from him, his commitment, his dedication. I train him 7 days a week sometimes 3 times a day. I have helped him to become the way he is, but he has also helped me and I don’t think that he knows how much he has helped me but I want him to be the best he can be in anything he does because he really deserves it”.
“For me coaching goalkeepers is my life. I want to coach more than anything, if I push myself to the limit to be as professional as I can then I will be a role model for those players that I work with so they know that I eat healthy, I go to the gym 12 times a week, train 5 times a week just Futsal, there’s no limit to what I do even if I don’t achieve what I want to achieve I have tried everything, every day I try to be the best I can be, by being so I can help them to see look Cristiano is doing this and he has no real goal as he has given up his career but he’s still doing it and I do it for them so they can look at myself and say if Cristiano does it then I can to”
“That’s the way I try to live my life to be better than I was yesterday. I work to help my goalkeepers and to make my mum proud wherever she is now. I want to inspire them more than anything and the fact that it’s not my dream, but its helping to fulfil someone else’s dream makes it even bigger to me”
As we begin to wrap up the interview talk turns to the future and what his plans are
“I like Manchester, it’s like my home and I don’t imagine myself leaving here, at least until I hope one of my lads makes it professional. Until then it’s my mission to make a professional, to put a goal keeper in the premier league is my dream”.