Football means everything to Angelo Schirinzi, especially beach soccer. The Switzerland coach has long been regarded as one of the world’s biggest experts on the sand-based version of the game.
The author of a book on beach soccer, he is also a FIFA instructor and travels the world from Mauritius to Tahiti and from Côte d’Ivoire to Iran, promoting the sport and ensuring its sustainable development. Now 42, Schirinzi was Switzerland’s player-coach when he led them to the final of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Dubai 2009, their very first appearance in the competition. Still in charge of the side today, he is now planning their bid for glory at Portugal 2015.
Widely respected in the game, the coach is also admired by his players, with Dejan Stankovic, the Dubai 2009 adidas Golden Ball and adidas Golden Scorer, recently telling FIFA.com that it was Schirinzi who persuaded him to swap grass for sand.
Granting an in-depth interview to FIFA.com, the Swiss tactician discussed the upcoming world finals in Espinho and the strides being made by beach soccer to develop around the planet.
FIFA.com: The draw for the group phase of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Portugal 2015 takes place on Tuesday. How excited are you about the tournament?
Angelo Schirinzi: I’ve been very excited since we qualified last September. We managed to do it convincingly too. I’m delighted that we’ve also brought so many young players into the team.
What are you aiming to achieve in Portugal?
To get as far as we possibly can. We’ll be going with that mindset. We reached the final of the European qualifiers, which shows that the potential is there. Our preparations have been spot on so far and we’ll get the players in perfect shape. We’ll also need to have confidence in ourselves, though. Portugal against Switzerland would be a great final. We’d beat Russia in the semis and Portugal would beat Brazil. That would be fantastic (laughs).
What are your team’s strengths?
The camaraderie in the dressing room. The team spirit is fantastic and we’ve grown as a unit in the last few years. On top of all that the players have also got a great understanding of tactics.
Aside from your coaching trips, you also do a lot of travelling on behalf of FIFA. How many countries have you visited in the last few years?
I couldn’t tell you. More than 50 for sure. I’ve had a lot of experiences, I can tell you.
It sounds like you need a map of the world in your office with flags showing all the places you’ve been to.
(laughs) Yes, that’s a great idea! I’ve thought about it but haven’t actually got round to it. It would be a really good birthday present.
What do beach soccer seminars involve?
Before I travel with FIFA, the coaches receive their invitations and all the preparations are made. It’s interesting to work with people from different parts of the world because they all have their own views on the game. The mindset in Africa is different to Asia, for example. I was in Miami and the Caribbean not so long ago and it was fantastic. Everyone was very motivated. As a player/coach, I have a lot of things to say, and we rounded the seminar off with practical and theory units. It’s great to get to meet so many people.
How do you see the developments made by beach soccer in the last few years?
When I started out in 2001 the sport was still very much in its infancy. Then along came FIFA in 2005 and they organised the World Cup, which triggered this massive boom. Beach soccer has just grown and grown since then. It’s incredible. If you look back few years ago, there were just a handful of teams playing in the European qualifiers. Now there are 24. It’s the same in the Caribbean. Last year there were eight teams taking part, and this time there were 16. Next time there will be 25. That’s a lot of growth.
Where do you think improvements can still be made?
The national teams have come on a lot since FIFA started getting involved, though it’s true that the national associations usually forget about the grassroots. We need to organise national leagues and work on the women’s and youth games. That’s what’s needed in my view. Switzerland is playing a pioneering role, though. We have a league that’s staged in 14 cities between May and September, as well as beach soccer camps for children, a women’s league and much more besides. We’re doing a lot, but more needs to be done at a global level.
What attributes do you need to have to be a good beach soccer player?
First and foremost you have to enjoy playing football. Footballers like playing on grass and in the street etc. It’s more fun on sand though. There are more things you can do, like bicycle kicks. When you play on sand you don’t get hurt or injured when you fall. You have to be in good physical shape if you want to play professionally and you have to be able to read the game. That’s very important because it’s a faster game on sand than it is on grass. In technical terms, it’s a very demanding sport. You have to play a direct game and you need to be decisive in finishing moves off. To play on sand you really need to adapt.
Are beach soccer players just as good on grass as they are on sand, and vice versa? My view is that not every 11-a-side player can play beach soccer, but every beach soccer player would make a good footballer on grass.
What memories do you have of the 2009 Beach Soccer World Cup and Switzerland’s sensational run to the final?
It was a massive surprise. We nearly didn’t make it all, and almost went out in the decisive final match. We kept on training and trying to improve, though, and when we finally booked our place to the finals we felt a tremendous sense of relief. To play in the World Cup was a dream for us, and when we clinched qualification the players just burst into tears. The World Cup itself was just amazing. Nobody expected it, and to reach the final was a dream come true. Though we couldn’t beat Brazil, we went home with a medal and Dejan Stankovic walked away with two individual FIFA awards. It's hard to put it into words.