Ramiro Figueiras Amarelle, the captain of the Spanish national team, is unquestionably one of the world's leading exponents of beach soccer.
Blessed with enviable technique, the Spaniard is capable of working wonders on sand, frequently amazing spectators with his exquisite goals and ball skills. Amarelle's love for the sport is evident both when he is playing and talking about it, as witnessed by the glint in his eye and passionate words when the conversation turns to the latest exploits of the national team.
At the recent Superfinal in Marseille, two goals by Amarelle and another two by Nico handed Spain victory over Portugal, recapturing the title they had missed out in the two previous years, when the team's dip in form saw them settle for fifth place in the European championships.
"We won the European title on the back of hard work and consistency," Amarelle tells FIFA.com with a satisfied smile. "After getting used to contesting the final, we didn't even make the semis in the previous two editions. This victory should be a turning point for us. We rode our luck and reaped the rewards for all our work, and finished feeling that we had done our job well."
The captain insists that dedication, consistency and togetherness were the key factors in the team's return to winning ways. "This is a group effort," he insists. "We all know it's the job of some people to score goals and that of others to stop them, but also that there are many other things in between. There are a lot of people supporting us both personally and professionally, and we're very aware that if we don't all pull in the same direction, then things will come to a halt."
Amarelle fell in love with beach soccer back the sport was just taking off in Europe. In 1997, he and a group of friends entered a tournament in the northern Spanish city of La Coruna, and duly won.
Later, the same side claimed victory at the national championship, earning them a match against the Spanish national team, who were so impressed by Amarelle that they wasted no time in incorporating the player into their squad. It was thus that Amarelle gradually swapped the playing fields of Spanish third division football for the lure of beach soccer.
"I stopped focusing on football and instead started going to the beach to practice. There came a moment when I said to my family that I was going to combine my studies with beach soccer, but it soon became clear which one I was dedicating most time to," he recalls with a grin. "In the beginning they were very concerned, but then they realised how dedicated I was to it and how I would really push myself to get where I want to be. Little by little I made progress and starting achieving things, and now they're contented."
Beach soccer is his abiding passion and something he has dedicated his life to for almost ten years, the striker having sacrificed his early academic pursuits to concentrate fully on the sport. Currently representing Milano in the Italian beach soccer league, Amarelle admits he is fortunate to be able to make a living from the sport. That said, the player remains driven, and when he has free time away from the game, he can be found working on his language skills, studying to complete a course on sports management as well as lending his weight to efforts to develop the game in his homeland.
"There are a group of us in La Coruna who work at filling the information void that exists in the game," says the enterprising and ambitious 28-year-old. "I had the good fortune to start out in a sport that was almost unknown and then reach great heights with my national team. I've walked every step of the way on the road that has led to us having a FIFA-organised championship. Now, I intend to continue battling so we can become federated and achieve professional status for the players."
The next challenge
After picking up the European title, the next challenge for Amarelle and Co is to improve on their disappointing seventh-place finish at last year's FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, where they crashed out in the quarter-finals against France.
This time round, the frontman insists the team will be better prepared: "Our training is geared towards reaching the final and then hopefully claiming our first world title. We know it won't be easy, as you can have an off-day and lose to anyone.
"Our group games (against France, Iran and Canada) will all be very complicated. I mean we kick off against the defending champions, after all! Obviously, last year's defeat will be on our minds, and we'll be looking to take revenge. That said, it will be a different game as we have five new players and a very young team."
These wholesale changes have given a new impetus to the side, as the player explains. "We've managed to put together a group of ten extremely determined players who all come form the same area, something that greatly facilitates squad training," he said. "Supporting and guiding us every step of the way have been Jose Represas and Jorge Martin, who have set rigorous benchmarks for our development.
"When we started out, the team was made up of former professional footballers, but over time it changed direction and brought in some fresh youngsters. There was no control structure or training routine imposed on these young players. Basically each one trained however and whenever they could. The team achieved incredible things in the early years, as we had a lot of quality and a lot of luck.
"The hardest thing is not reaching that position, it's staying there. We lacked a measure of consistency and dedication, and our preparations were insufficient, and so what followed were two barren years. Other countries continued to make steady progress, which coincided with our regression. With these countries improving so much, we needed a solid base and couldn't just rely on individuals."
Gradually, things began to change and the team moved forward, though there still remains some way to go. "Despite all the titles we've won, it's only this year that we've had proper goals to train in on the beach. We need more human resources, people like sports specialists, trainers, physiotherapists, as well as specialist materials and facilities. Now, with the backing of FIFA and the Federation, we're going to take a very significant step forward. We want that to translate into more people, because we players have so far performed at a level far beyond what you'd expect with the resources we've had at our disposal."