Few would be foolhardy enough to argue about Asian futsal with Chinese Taipei coach Damien Knabben. After all, this is the man who coached the Belgium national futsal team for 11 years between 1992 to 2003, played futsal for 11 years with three-time Belgium league champions Maasmechelen before coaching Hasseld and guiding the Belgium giants to seven league champions and five cup titles.
He began dedicating his knowledge and experience of futsal to Asian teams in 2000, when he guided Iran to the finals in Guatemala in 2000. Then he began to work with the Chinese Taipei Football Association, helping them with futsal development at all levels. FIFA.com caught up with the international celebrity for his reflections on Chinese Taipei and Asian futsal.
FIFA.com: Developing futsal in Chinese Taipei was the brainchild of General Secretary Chang Chan Wei and you in a meeting four years ago. Why did you think such an idea would be suitable for Chinese Taipei?
Damien Knabben: It was a fact then that football was far from popular on this island, with not many people caring about the game. Hence, the priority should be to have the kids and youth getting involved in football. And futsal, which requires a simpler infrastructure and conditions to 11-a-side football, would be easy to carry out here.
What were your initial targets with Chinese Taipei?
It was difficult to bring the team to a world-class standard in just a few years so, the best job we could do was to gain ground by educating kids and young people while organising competitions throughout the island. This way we created a bigger pool from which we made the selections for the Chinese Taipei team.
At the very beginning I helped Mr. Chang Chan Wei coach students from schools. When he took over the Chinese Taipei Football Association later on, we began to work on the overall development of futsal.
After four years of sustained efforts, have the primary targets been met?
You cannot improve by leaps and bounds overnight. We could not hope to match the world powers - we had three straight group losses. But the side has been progressing, and it was good to score twice in FIFA Futsal World Championship for the young team, who only started playing futsal a couple of years ago. We can now see futsal has hopes here.
What do Chinese Taipei players need to improve on most?
They are a young team and they will have to improve in many aspects, in physical energy, fitness, mentality, techniques etc.
You guided Iran to Guatemala 2000, but the Asian champions disappointed this time, having failed to reach the last eight. Why do you thinks this is?
The problem with Team Melli was that they played old-fashioned futsal.
What do you mean by "old fashioned futsal"?
It is apparent that Iranian players are technically and individually strong, but they may have depended too largely on skills and technique. They just didn't play fast enough. Today's futsal games require more speed and competitiveness, and you have learn to cope with problems in a higher-tempo environment.
What about Japan and Thailand?
Thailand impressed in the match with Brazil. They lost the game but they showed their skills and strong defence. Japan also put up notable performances in their three matches, with good teamwork and fine combinations.
But how can smaller Asian players contend with their taller and stronger European or American opponents?
The best way is playing games with them. Firstly, they need to have their own leagues, where they can support themselves to play the game; and then they will have to play as much as possible against European and South American opponents. You can only improve by playing with top teams. You learn from them today, and you beat them tomorrow.
Are there any Asian players who impressed you? Any with the potential of being a world star of tomorrow?
For the Asian teams now good teamwork is far more important than individual perfection. One or two world stars can make the team stronger, but with good team work and a game plan you can win the match.
Will you continue to work with Chinese Taipei after this FIFA tournament?
I have made friends here and I like them. And I am happy to share my knowledge of futsal with them.
Will you accept an invitation from other Asian teams?
Why not? Futsal has no boundaries. In this World Championship we have all noticed what great progress Asian teams have made. The potential of futsal in the world's largest continent is boundless. I would like to offer them help if they need, educating players with my knowledge and experience.