After retiring from playing futsal for the first team last year we caught up with Manchester Futsal Club Co- Founder and Head of Youth Ilya Ovechkin. In the exclusive interview to www.manchesterfutsalshop.comhe tells us about his role in the club, the youth academy and the insights into Manchester Futsal Club.
You have played for the first team for that last 13 years and last year was the first time you haven’t been involved on the court with the first team.
How does that feel? Do you still miss playing?
I have missed playing for the first team and being part of the squad, that’s for sure. It’s been a part of my life for the last 13 years. We have had some great squads over the years and I have missed the boys that I have been playing with. There have been some great memories during those years that you can’t really forget. The trips to Asia, winning the FA futsal cup in 2011 (that was the best squad we possibly had), playing in the finals of the play-offs and the FA futsal cups - they have all been great experiences that we as a group have enjoyed it.
I always had two hats being a player as well as the co-founder of the club – which was not always easy to do. As the club grew it was time to make a decision to step down as a player and focus more on other areas of the club.
One of the areas that I have been passionate about has been developing the clubs youth programme that we have established 6 years ago. We knew that it was an important part to secure the clubs long term future, especially if we wanted to continue with the first team and compete at the highest level of English Futsal.
Over the years we have gone through a number of squads. We have had some great foreign players joining us and players that have come from other parts of England. But it was the players from Manchester that have always been the core of the team and were instrumental in the success of our club. This is why we have placed great importance in developing our own players from Manchester, who can represent the city on both the national and international stage.
Can you tell us some more information on how the youth programme is structured.
The youth programme plays a huge part in Manchester Futsal Club future now. The journey that we started 6 years ago, with just a few young players joining the club, and now we have a fully operational youth programme which connects all age groups up to the first team.
It has been a long journey especially when we started, there was hardly any youth futsal teams or junior clubs around playing futsal. It was important that we went through all the processes ourselves in building the youth programme so we understand fully how it all works. We had a lot to take in to consideration as it had never been done before in England – especially at the futsal club level.
We had the foundations of the first team and our experiences in futsal to help us begin. Having the first team helped us to understand the importance in the way we had to build a good youth structure, as these will be the players that we are preparing to join the first team. It has been a key aspect in developing the players for the first team as we knew what exactly it takes to be in the first team. Having the academy setting has given an opportunity for our first team players to be involved in developing the next generation of players to pass on their experiences.
Who are the coaches in the youth programme?
We have a good mix of coaches, all who are or have been, first team players. Raducio King, Giles Collier and Sam Richardson have been instrumental in shaping the youth programme with me. Another great addition to the team came when Sergi joined us as coach with the first team two years ago. He has helped our development and the experience that he brought over from Spain has been a valuable addition to the club.
Manchester Futsal Club is in our DNA and it’s important that we continue passing our knowledge and experience to our youth players. We want to promote and teach not just Futsal skills but also team work skills and create bonds and social circles within the academy. These are essential elements when it comes to creating a team and we want to emulate that first team bond within our academy. We want our youth players to get the best opportunities in the game.
The youth programme is ever evolving, year on year. We are adding certain elements to the programme to improve our young players. We want them not just to experience coaching sessions from experienced players but for the, also to be involved in thorough and inclusive games programmes, playing with youth clubs from up and down the country. Not only do we play regular tournaments around the country, but we also like to give the youth the experience of playing teams from abroad from countries like Spain where futsal is already a well established sport.
The international tours we have found are not only an important element in their training, to be able to play and compete with other youth players, but they are also a source of great enjoyment for the teams. They get to experience travel and new cultures, all while playing the sport they love.
Enjoyment in playing futsal is a foundation that we embed in our youth teams, it could actually be one of the most important elements. The game is still new to some of the young players so it’s our role to insure that when they arrive at our club they feel that they can express themselves and enjoy all the benefits that futsal can offer.
Each and every player is important to us – and we want them to develop all aspects of the game with us. We can see the big picture and no matter what age you are we always give our academy players an opportunity to develop and improve.
The connection between the youth academy players and the first team has been vital. It’s not about the young players just learning the game, but it’s about being part of the whole club. They get the chance to sit court side and watch regular live Futsal games. This is such a unique part of our academies because they get to be taught by a Futsal professional, and then see them play in a live game. They get to see how all the skills they are taught are used in a game setting and I can think of no better teacher than someone who has had the experiences themselves.
The kids love getting to be a part of the match day experience too, whether they are mascots or flag bearers, or actually getting the chance to go on the court to take part in a game before the match. It’s these elements that really help us feel like Manchester is not just a first team that plays, but it is a much bigger family tree with many branches that are helping our youth players develop and grow as futsal players.
We have youth players that have been with us through their whole journey. They arrived with us at the age of ten and now we are getting to see them make their first team debuts. I can’t help but feeling proud when I see them stepping out on the court. It is so rewarding to see that our vision in creating an academy pathway is actually becoming a reality.
A great example of this is Sam Gow. He first joined the academy at age eleven, and now as he has turned 16 he is training with the first team. It’s not just great seeing him playing on court with them, it’s all the interactions that happen off the court too. It’s the confidence he shows and the great manners he has, walking round shaking everyone hands at training sessions, cracking jokes with the first team players, it’s as if he has been training with the first team for years. It’s that seamless transition and familiarity with the first team players, the staff and the environment that helps our young player to develop ever further.
Since retiring from playing I have found that my role is to guide the players throughout the stages and oversee their development. I have a great deal of respect for our academy players, they always present themselves with a professional attitude and are excellent ambassadors of Manchester Futsal Club.
What is the pathway for players at Manchester Futsal Youth Academies?
One of the main reasons when we started the youth programme was to provide a tangible pathway for our young players to follow. It has taken us six years to really connect all the age groups and put a solid foundation for the next crop of young players to really test it and enjoy it. The first team is the ultimate destination point for all our young players to inspire to play for, but they have to go through all the stages in order to really develop and become great futsal players.
The connection between the development team and the first team has been key to that. We have an opportunity for our academy graduates now to go straight to the Development team at the age of sixteen and develop there under the supervision of Sergi. It’s an important stage to really learn the trade of futsal and showcase that you really ready to step up to make it to the first team. It’s very important that players go through those development stages with us before they can even start thinking about playing and training with the England national futsal team.
The England opportunity and the pathway is certainly there for our young English players and its our job to develop those players that can go on and represent their county. We have already seen some of our young players take up this baton. Raphe, Jake & Kai are currently within the England Emerging Talent group. Another proud example for Manchester Futsal Club is Jordan Edge. At the age of twenty one he has already claimed a spot in the England Senior national team. Jordan has been with the club since he was sixteen years old, and he is a great role model for our youth academy to look up to. He makes everyone at the club proud with the professional way he presents himself and his dedication and commitment to training. All of these boys are showing great progression and we will keep helping to support their development to see how far they go.
Our education link with MMU is one of the other pathways that we are developing. Players that wish to continue with their education can still have an opportunity to be part of the futsal pathway. It’s one of the exciting projects that we really want our players to take advantage of where they can join the full time futsal programme alongside their education.
How would you say the youth academy is helping to create the futsal culture in Manchester?
Futsal in Manchester is flourishing and more and more youngsters are now starting to play the game. As a club it’s our responsibility to provide more opportunities for new players to engage with futsal and have access at a local level. Like I have mentioned before the youth programme has been the key factor to the first team but we felt that we wanted to do more than just have an academy for our club. We really wanted to expand and provide coaching opportunities in other parts of Manchester and connect all the areas together.
The satellite clubs that we have launched so far have been MFC Marple & Cheadle Futsal. It’s a fantastic journey that we are going through – the players, coaches and parents there have really bought into being part of Manchester Futsal Club family. We are also continuing to build on these programmes and to open more satellite clubs, so keep a look out for these new centres!
The futsal culture is continuing its emergence in Manchester and it’s definitely not going to go away. It’s important that as a club we connect the futsal community together and keep inspiring the next generation of players.
The future of futsal in Manchester is going to be exciting. We have players coming though via the youth academy that can share their stories of how they arrive at futsal and their future plans.
It’s also been great to have brand like Umbro behind us. They understand where the game is going and we are able to work together to show that futsal has a bright future. Futsal is cool to be part of and Manchester is a city where that culture is prevalent both now and looking to the future.
The next generation of players is key to the development of the game and it is our job at the club to help the next generation in achieving their dreams. This could be on the court developing their talent or off the court with coaching and other futsal opportunities.
Futsal is cool to be part of and Manchester is a city where we can really establish the HOME OF FUTSAL!