Clemente Reynoso is a legend of Cuban futsal. In his 20-year tenure as national team coach, he has taken Cuba to four FIFA Futsal World Cup competitions, and is set to mark his two decades in the job with a fifth appearance, at Colombia 2016.
The 66-year-old coach has ties with the 11-a-side game that go all the way back to his childhood. Starting out as a player, he then moved into coaching before turning his attention to futsal in the early 1980s. Yet, as he explained in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, it was some time before his love for the indoor game fully blossomed.
“I was with the national team and we went on a tour of Uruguay in 1996,” said Reynoso. “It was there that the then Penarol coach gave us an insight into tactics and systems. We played a few games and it was a very useful experience, because we didn’t know much and we learned a lot. From there we went on to Guatemala for the qualifiers for the World Cup that year in Spain. Luckily, we booked our ticket for the finals.”
That qualification success marked the start of a brilliant career in charge of the national team. Though there have been lows to go with the highs, every experience has been an enriching one: “On our World Cup debut we came up against Brazil, the best team in the world at that time. And, yes, we lost 16-0, but not every team has the opportunity to play them and to learn from them. It was quite something, and it was a rare privilege.”
Though the Cubans failed to progress beyond the group phase on that occasion, or at Guatemala 2000, Chinese Taipei 2004 and Brazil 2008, they continued to learn valuable lessons against teams of the calibre of Spain, Portugal and Argentina. The hope now is that Cuba can turn everything they have learned over the years into good results at Colombia 2016.
Contemplating that possibility, Reynoso, who has a meticulous approach to his work, said: “I’ve been lucky enough to have had some very good players and a great coaching team, and it’s thanks to them that I’ve been able to go to all these World Cups. I’ve got a fairly new group of players for this fifth competition, which is why I’m taking the boys to a few different countries, so they can improve their game. We’re looking to work on our errors over and over so we can then go to Colombia and make as few of them as possible.”
Our job now is to prepare well and do everything we can to improve on our past performances.
Yet the Cubans will not have it easy at Reynoso’s fifth World Cup, as he acknowledged: “I’ve always said that there’s no such thing as an easy group. The teams that are there are there for a reason, which is why you have to do your ground work and respect everyone. This time we’re up against Thailand, Egypt and Russia, who are all big teams. Our job now is to prepare well and do everything we can to improve on our past performances.”
To achieve that, Reynoso is relying on nothing else but hard work. Perseverance, commitment and insight are all qualities he possesses in abundance. “I’m working on tactics,” he explained. “We’re working really well in training, but the problem is that when the team goes into a match, they don’t do what they’ve been working on, and that’s all down to a lack of exposure to competition. That’s why we’re looking to play a few warm-up games against teams who’ve achieved things on the international stage, so they can loosen up a little. It’ll give them the chance to react to what the opposition is doing, see what they’re up to, and then see what response they can come up with.”
He added: “We find it hard to move around and drop into space, and we play a pretty predictable game. Futsal is a team sport, and the players can’t show their individual skills unless they play as a team. I have to work hard on that sometimes, but then they do manage to click as a unit and strike the right balance between both those aspects of the game.”
Clemente Reynoso is more than ready for his fifth Futsal World Cup, a new adventure, with new goals to fulfil, and yet another chapter in a story that is now nearing its end. “I feel fit and strong, despite my age,” said the wily tactician. “I still play football every Sunday, so there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet. I’m also aware, though, that you have to step aside and give youth a chance, and I’ll be there, ready to help with anything.”
Before he does take that step aside, however, the defiant Reynoso has some unfinished business to attend to: “Our objective is to go beyond the first round and then to try and go as far as we can.”