Angelo Schirinzi: “Your Feet Burn Like Hell”
The Swiss national beach soccer team has qualified for the 2017 World Cup. National coach and beach soccer pioneer Angelo Schirinzi about the fascination and development of this booming sport. A conversation in two parts. (Part 2)
Interview: Michael Krobath
Angelo Schirinzi, you are considered a pioneer of beach soccer in Switzerland. How did you come to this exotic game?
I was always fascinated by small-field soccer, whether in the playground or in the gym. Then in 1999 I first watched a beach soccer match on TV with the legendary Eric Cantona. I was completely spellbound and knew right away: this is my thing.
What structures were there in Switzerland at the time?
Nada. Nothing. There were no facilities or associations anywhere in the country, and certainly no championship. Together with Reto Wenger, the current CEO, we started from scratch. He took care of the marketing, and I handled the sports aspects. In 2001 we founded Swiss Beach Soccer, and that same year a Swiss national team took part in an international tournament for the first time, at the European cup in Gran Canaria. When I see how far we have come since then, I sometimes think that I'm dreaming.
In addition to this development work, you have also written the official beach soccer textbook on behalf of FIFA. How do you explain the fascination of beach soccer to someone who doesn't have a clue?
Just like beach volleyball, beach soccer is a great mixture of samba mood and sporting spectacle. The appeal can also be expressed in numbers: On average, a shot on goal is made every 30 seconds. There are 9 successful goals per game on average. These days, beach soccer is played in 130 countries, and the 2015 World Cup had around 80 million TV viewers worldwide.
What particular talents are required in this sport?
Of course you need good technique and a lot of strength. But above all, you need to have very good coordination.
Does beach soccer call for special training methods?
Yes. It is most efficient to play in the sand as often as possible. That way, all the muscles are automatically activated. The main idea of this type of sport is to keep the ball in the air as much as possible. Unlike on the grass, the pass is therefore not played flat, but high whenever possible. And ideally you do not accept the ball, but pass it directly on to a team member.
What are the most common injuries?
Sprained or broken toes. But overall, beach soccer is considerably less dangerous than grass football. As a result, ligament and knee injuries for example are very rare.
Do your feet get used to the hot sand?
No. When it is extremely hot, the sand is sprayed down shortly before the start of play. But usually it heats up again quickly and then your feet start to burn like hell. Handling the pain is purely in the mind. Our opponents struggle with it far more than we do. My players even seem to like it. The Swiss national team is made up of some pretty crazy guys.
There is no money to be made in this sport. So how do you recruit talent?
You have to hand-pick them. To do so, we rely on good tips and watch a lot of junior soccer matches on the grass. An example: A few years ago I discovered the young Noel Ott among GC’s U16 juniors. It was clear that he has all the qualities needed for beach soccer and fortunately he decided to make the transition. But you have to be realistic: We are happy if we can introduce a talent into the national team every two years.
Is beach soccer where lazy grass soccer players end up?
On the contrary. Beach soccer is much more physically demanding. Anybody who doubts that is welcome to train with us once.
The national beach soccer championship always takes place in the summer break of the Super League. Do cracks also play there?
Around 30 percent are indeed still playing in "normal" soccer clubs. But none of them are top players. They are afraid of injuries or the club bans them from it outright.
Which Swiss star would you most like to have in the national beach soccer team?
I think Blerim Dzemaili would have great potential. And also Valon Behrami. Haris Seferovic could be interesting for all the way forward, as the one that hammers the ball in. We recently had the retired Marco Streller in training – he was sensational. Unfortunately we couldn't convince him to join us.
Is the rule that the better the technique, the better in the sand?
Actually, no. The best example is the super-technical Barcelona star Ivan Rakitic. He also trained with us before, but was not successful right away. Beach soccer requires a certain flair, a special mix of technique and strength.
Recently the beach soccer national team has been integrated into the Swiss Football Association and is also being sponsored by Credit Suisse. What does that mean to you?
It is recognition for our years of development work. And for the players it is an honor to put on the associations' official jersey. This partnership will bring us more media attention and hopefully even more support.
In future, will beach soccer become an Olympic sport and be even better known?
We hope so, and it has been discussed for quite some time. Unfortunately it didn't work out in time for Rio. Beach soccer on Copacabana – that would have been a huge event. We've played there before in front of 12,000 spectators – brilliant.
But maybe it will happen in 2020. Taking part in the Olympics for Switzerland – that would be the climax to an unbelievable story.