While the historical roots of the beautiful game are often disputed, the fact that England was where the modern game really began to be shaped is never up for debate. However, when it comes to futsal, its relationship is quite different.
Compared to its Latin veterans, England were very late to the party in adopting the sport - their national team was not formed until 2003 - 73 years since the game was first conceived in Uruguay. However, the national team is out to prove their growth in the game by progressing beyond the European preliminary qualifiers for the FIFA Futsal World Cup for the first time.
The Three Lions, ranked 59th in the world, head to Israel to tackle Wales, Denmark and the hosts in their quest to reach Colombia 2016. “It's not a group of death, but we could all beat each other on any given day,” coach Peter Sturgess told FIFA.com ahead of the trip.
“It's tantalising as we just need to ensure that we turn up and perform really, really well. It's a really tight group but I think we feed off that. We have to be confident, because our current form is quite good. We're currently punching well above our weight and our recent results have been nothing short of remarkable.”
Should they top the group they will meet Ukraine, Hungary and Belgium, with Sturgess acknowledging that the next stage would be huge for English futsal. “It would be remarkable, but I do think it would be well earned,” he said.
“The England team is at the peak of the [development] pyramid and we want to use it to inspire people to engage with futsal - to play more, talk about it more, so that the whole game develops. [Qualification] would be the culmination of a decade of hard slog where we've had to overcome lots and lots of obstacles. It would be a massive pay-off for everyone.”
We've started to get a real momentum behind the game.
Sturgess has been with the England team for the last seven years, a similar spell to Simon Walker, the FA's National Manager for Adult Grassroots Football, who has been leading the growth of the game. He knows the hard slog the England boss is talking about.
“We had the same challenges as many northern-European nations,” Walker told FIFA.com. “And we have been battling to try to get people to understand the values of the game and the reasons for playing futsal. Step-by-step over the last few years we have managed to erode some of the barriers and misunderstandings. We've started to get a real momentum behind the game.”
Part of the struggle has been cementing the distinction between futsal and 5-a-side football – a staple of British sport – with 1.5 million people playing small-sided games each week in England. But now the difference is registering.
“In the past we've needed to say it's similar to five-a-side, but it's actually a million miles away,” Sturgess explained. “We've had to get across it has its own nuances and subtleties, particularly tactically.”
But futsal's role in developing the next generation of 11-a-side players has really taken hold, with the likes of the Premier League featuring futsal prominently in its winter break programme for the country's top academies. Walker, meanwhile, says the FA is also looking to double participation to around 200,000 by 2020, after it has been accepted it is an “integral element” in developing future generations.
“It outlines the growing value we assign to futsal in the FA and the importance it can play in helping to create the next Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo for England, but also in terms of futsal as a sport in its own right.”
The focus so far has been on getting players playing futsal, but having built that base there is the potential to hone the talent to serve the sport itself. “Our view was to get the participation growing first and add the quality second,” he explained.
But now they are out to cultivate the coaches to grow the talent, keeping in mind the short relationship between England and futsal. “[The coaches' needs] are very different to those in Portugal, Spain and Italy where perhaps their inherent knowledge of futsal is far different to that of those here. There's no point delivering Spanish level courses to coaches who have only just seen futsal – it's going to blow their mind!”
With a restructuring of the national league and new England development squads formed, Walker is keen to set the Three Lions high targets for the future. “Our aspiration is to try to break the top 30 [in the next five years] if we can, but that's a lofty ambition and whether we can achieve that against some really powerful futsal nations, we'll have to see.”
Step one to achieving that goal will come in Israel.