Matias Lucuix: I found myself again at this World Cup
An injury suffered at the 2012 Futsal World Cup forced Lucuix into early retirement
Thanks to Diego Giustozzi he was back involved in futsal as an assistant in the 2016 edition
Hoping to add to the World Cup he won five years ago, this time as head coach
"These moments come around once in a blue moon and you don't know whether you’ll get another opportunity like it. I’m trying to make the most of it because it might not last forever." These were the thoughts of Matias Lucuix in an interview with FIFA.com, and they could have been uttered by any ambitious footballer or coach striving to go as far as possible at the FIFA Futsal World Cup Lithuania 2021™. However, in Matias’s case his words resonate much further than your typical platitudes.
Let us cast our eyes back to the FIFA Futsal World Cup Thailand 2012™, when Argentina were pinning their hopes on ‘Mati’, a leggy winger and established star in the Spanish league who had the makings of becoming a futsal legend. Disaster struck in a group game against Australia as Lucuix suffered a serious injury that ruled him out for the rest of the competition. And that was only the beginning of his turmoil: what followed was a three-year battle of false starts and long periods on the treatment table, culminating in Lucuix conceding defeat and retiring with a bitter taste in the mouth.
However, years later an opportune call by Diego Giustozzi offering him the position of assistant coach changed everything. He seized the opportunity and was back in the big time, going on to conquer the 2016 World Cup as Argentina's assistant coach, a trophy he was unable to win as a player after his injury saga.
This time around he’s taken the step up from assistant to head coach as Argentina try to defend their title in Lithuania. Before facing the RFU in what is a repeat of the 2016 final, FIFA.com sat down with Matias Lucuix to talk about what he expects from the quarter-final, his footballing memories and his futsal rebirth.
FIFA.com: Was making your World Cup debut as a coach different from when you did so as a player? Matias Lucuix: I’m still young and so far in my nascent coaching career I’ve been really enjoying myself and having the responsibility of leading my country. You obviously see things differently when you’re a player, you’ve got a different role, but you enjoy it more this way. I’ve had the opportunity to experience it from both perspectives and I realise how lucky I am. I’ve now just got to make the most of it.
How would you describe yourself as a coach? I try to approach coaching in the same way as I do life in general and as I did as a player: by being transparent and having close relationships, while never straying from my core footballing philosophy. My aim is to put together a team which carries out my tactics to a tee. It’s a challenge because the players work under different systems at their club teams, so getting them to switch over to what I want to do in the matter of a few weeks is problematic. Even so, it’s obvious that the team is carrying out my instructions well: we’ve got a dynamic side which takes games to the opponent and is comfortable both in and out of possession.
Despite my tender years I’ve taken part in big tournaments, both at youth and senior level. I think that beyond just the experiences I’ve accumulated over the years I’m a well-rounded guy, and I think that’s a great quality.
Obviously, I used to play alongside some of the footballers I now coach, but I’m on the other side of the white line now. I call the shots and the buck stops with me, but having said that I try to be close to my players, listen to what they have to say and encourage them to get involved. At the end of the day what they see and experience on the court is different from what us coaches come up with on the chalkboard.
After beating Paraguay, you said that when you face the RFU there will be more expectations on them to win the tournament. Yet this may be your side’s last game too. Will the way each team handles the pressure be pivotal? RFU are very competitive and one of the best teams the world, but they’ve never taken the final step and actually won a big tournament. Both teams are battle-hardened. We were able to win the World Cup, and in the qualifiers for this World Cup we beat Brazil on their home turf. We thrive off experiences like those, we’re hungry, committed and brave. We’re not just going to sit back and relax.
What differences are there between the RFU and Argentina of 2016 and the current teams? The RFU use the same structure as before, and both the 2016 and 2021 teams are very tight in defence and strong in attack; they try to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. There are similarities but time has passed, we’re all five years older.
Our Argentina side boasts reigning champions from five years ago but also new faces who are making waves in this World Cup. There are differences though; we have changed coaches and there are players who weren’t here before. I’m trying to carry on what Diego [Giustozzi] set in motion. Resting on your laurels isn’t conducive for being competitive and our plan is to take the game to opponents and try to win more tournaments.
Tell us about the influence Diego Giustozzi has had on you. Given my feeling for him as a person and the relationship we have I can’t talk about Diego objectively. He’s both a friend and a teacher. I had the chance to spend a lot of time with him, soaking up a lot of knowledge and I’m very grateful to him.
He played an important role in you taking the step up to Europe. How did this come about? We were at the Pan American Games in Brazil when he mentioned the possibility of me going for a trial in Spain, at Caja Segovia. I was just a youngster and keen to play in the best league in the world, but I had reservations and doubts when it came to leaving my home country, my family and friends, and how everything would go for me there.
Both Diego and Miguel Rodrigo convinced me to take that step. They made my dream of becoming a pro come true and took me to places I would never have imagined going, so I’m really grateful to them. They’re lifelong friends of mine, the kind you can only forge in football and I’m indebted to them for the influence they had on me both as a footballer and as a person.
Has this World Cup helped you reconcile with futsal after being forced to retire due to injury? When you go through bad times in sport, such as what I experienced with my career-ending injury, you’re left smarting. You ask yourself 'Why me?', but you’re unable to find any explanation. Yet at this World Cup I found myself again and got my appetite back. I wanted to be reliving these places and experiences which had enriched my life so much. Today I feel fulfilled, I’m grateful for what this sport gives me and the moments I experience through it, and the fantastic responsibility of representing my country. I’ll be eternally grateful for that.
When Diego Giustozzi offered you the position of assistant coach, was it difficult for you to accept the role after what you’d been through? Yes, because it’s a challenge. Playing is one thing but coaching is another; you have to make your ideas coherent and concise and put them across to a team. Even today I still have to rethink many things and see if my ideas work, or whether I need to go back to the drawing board. It’s not always easy to put your ideas into practice because you have to adapt to your players. It’s a real challenge, but I enjoy the day-to-day and playing matches. These moments come around once in a blue moon and you don't know whether you’ll get another opportunity like it. I’m trying to make the most of it because it might not last forever. That is why I try to enjoy it..
I suppose that the injury showed you how quickly things can change and that you’ve got to enjoy yourself while you can. There’s no doubt that it did. You learn to fight and find inspiration to achieve something and not rest on your laurels. If you think about it, there’s a lesson to be learnt from every negative situation we go through. After suffering so much with injury I’m now just trying to enjoy myself, making the most of working with the national team and being at a World Cup at the age of 35. I hope that it’s the first of many more for me.