A VU study comparing futsal and soccer skills is the only project to be chosen outside Europe for a prestigious research grant by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).
VU researcher Luca Oppici will receive the equivalent of about $22,000 AUD to conduct a study as part of his PhD with the University's Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living (ISEAL).
His research is a first-time look at decision-making skills in the fast-paced five-a-side game of indoor futsal compared to the long-range 11-a-side game of soccer, or association football.
Futsal, invented as a training tool for football players in the 1930s, has developed a cult following as a sport in its own right in Latin America and Europe. It’s been credited with kicking off the skills of many of the world’s top footballers including Brazil’s legendary forward Ronaldinho and Argentina’s Lionel Messi.
"The fast pace and short-range ground passing techniques of futsal build up skills in quick decision-making and precision in controlling the ball,” he explained.
Luca will evaluate this quick decision-making by studying the ‘gaze behaviour’ – or where players look and for how long – of an elite youth futsal squad in Spain, and comparing it to an elite group of young football players in Australia.
Over the coming months, he will record and collect data through special light-weight goggles with mounted cameras, with final results expected by March 2016.
“At this stage, I’m hypothesising that futsal players will be able to transfer their decision-making and technical skills to a soccer environment, and we can develop strategies to facilitate that transfer process,” he said.
Luca, who first came to Australia with his fiancée from Italy on a working holiday visa, has always played soccer. He said he is enthusiastic about examining it now through an academic perspective.
His PhD co-supervisor, Dr Fabio Serpiello, said Luca’s study was among only six projects selected this year from a record total of 52 applications from around the world for the 2015/16 UEFA Research Grant Programme.
Luca’s grant application was written with the support of his supervisor, Professor Damian Farrow, and his co-supervisors, Dr Derek Panchuk and Dr Serpiello.
His project is supported by the Royal Spanish Football Federation.