Futsal giving Saviola a new lease of life
After retiring from football in 2016, the former Argentina striker took up futsal in Andorra
Discusses his new career and his friendship with Portugal’s Ricardinho
Recalls his reaction to Argentina’s Colombia 2016 win and their chances at Lithuania 2021
Javier Saviola enjoyed many high points and triumphs in his outstanding football career. With Argentina he won gold at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Athens 2004 and helped them lift the FIFA U-20 World Cup on home soil in 2001.
It was in that year that he left River Plate, the club that had nurtured his attacking skills, to begin his European adventure. Over the next few years, he enjoyed successful spells with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Benfica and Sevilla, winning a number of domestic trophies, not to mention the UEFA Cup with the Andalusian side in 2004.
When Saviola finally retired in 2016, he realised there was something missing from his life. He had loved futsal as a young boy so rather than hang his boots up for good, he merely swapped them for a different pair, with flat soles. “I’ve always loved futsal, and when I gave up playing football professionally, it was in my plans to play it and enjoy myself on a different level,” Saviola told FIFA.com.
A logical step
“I’ve always liked it,” explained the man they called El Conejo (“The Rabbit”) during his playing days. “In Argentina there’s a pitch for playing baby football, which is what we call futsal, every 400 metres. Though we end up moving on to the big pitch, that’s where it all starts and that’s why we have that passion later in life.”
Saviola, who turns 40 in December, has spent the last four years starring with Andorran futsal club FC Encamp, where he has added even more titles to his list of honours. “I found a family there,” he explained. “I’d only just arrived in Andorra when they approached me. I had no hesitation in getting involved. I started playing, met my team-mates, and I’ve been here for four years now.”
Saviola has had to adapt himself to a game that differs in many ways to football, as he pointed out: “They’re completely different. Futsal is demanding, physical and challenging, and you have a split second to think in. You come up against teams who dictate the game too. It’s not the same as football at all.”
Having won league titles with Encamp, he took another step forward and had a taste of competitive European futsal: “I wanted to compete and find out what the highest level was like, and I found out playing in the Futsal Champions League. You come up against the national champions and you realise how good the standard is.”
Saviola the futsal player
A quick, incisive striker in his football days, Saviola was a penalty-box poacher who knew how to finish: “I always say that I’m a big-pitch player operating on a futsal court. There are a lot of things I don’t know and miss out on, and the other players put me in the picture.”
Describing what he brings to the game, he said: “Defending is where I struggle most. I lose focus sometimes. In my team we always try to have players who sit behind me and help me out. They’re the futsal players. On the positive side, I try to do my thing up front, score goals for my team, create space, and make the most of my quick finishing.”
An influential figure
If there is one futsal player who has had a big impact on Saviola, then it is Portugal star Ricardinho. The pair hit it off during the Argentinian’s time at Benfica, and they remain firm friends today. “We talk a lot,” said Saviola. “He’s a player I’ve always admired and he’s a really great person too. We’re always in touch and I enjoy watching him play.”
When asked if he had sought out Ricardinho’s advice, Saviola replied: “It’s a tough one. Ricardinho’s out there on his own. It’s like asking [Lionel] Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo for advice. We’re talking about amazing players here, the best in the world. I love how quick he is finishing a move off or settling a match.”
Come on Argentina!
Saviola will be keeping a close eye on the FIFA Futsal World Cup Lithuania 2021™, which starts this Sunday and where his compatriots will be defending the title they won in Colombia five years ago. “I hope they do it again,” he said. “As an Argentinian player who spent many years in the national football team, I’d love to see them win it again.”
As he pointed out, however, the opposition will be fierce: “Spain will be there. They play great futsal and I enjoy watching them. And there’s Portugal too. We’re used to seeing them on top.”
Saviola was as surprised as most of his fellow Argentinians at the 2016 world title win: “Nobody was expecting it. But when we watched the Games and saw how the World Cup turned out, we realised just how much potential we have. It was richly deserved and an amazing achievement for Argentinian futsal.”
He signed off with a message for the current players who will be defending that title in Lithuania. “You’re in a country that loves football with a passion and really lives and breathes it. Go out and enjoy it because you never know when you’re going to be involved in such a wonderful and important tournament as the World Cup again.”