Catching up with IFA graduate Mark Croft
The International Futsal Academy has a long and impressive list of graduates to be exceptionally proud of and Mark Croft most definitely sits firmly amongst that group. Having already gained 25 caps representing his country and gone on from Loughborough to play for Guardia Perticara in Italy’s Serie B he really is a trail blazer for English futsal players.
One of the IFA’s current goalkeepers, Dijari Marouf, (who incidentally himself has been called for international duties with Iraq), spoke with Mark about his futsal experiences to date and on advice he can give to the younger players starting their futsal journey.
How are things going for you in Italy?
Crazy, it’s been such a great learning curve for me these last 2 years. I’ve met some fantastic people who have helped guide me to where I am today. I’ll be forever grateful for this opportunity.
What is the biggest difference between futsal in Italy and in England?
I get asked this question a lot. For me, except from in Serie A, the technical ability of the players is very similar. Where Italy excels is on the tactical side, which is due to players participating in futsal from an early age.
There is also a difference in venues. Most teams will own a facility meaning fewer lines on the court. Also the sport currently has a much higher appeal in Italy, therefore attracting a great atmosphere to the games. I remember one game last year we had over 800 people watching with drums, singing, the whole lot!
What do you think is most important for the future of Futsal in England?
I think the most important thing is to get kids into the sport as early as possible, whether this be through schools or academies. I also feel that the SL needs more coverage, that could be through a social media page that posts results, tables, team of the week that kind of thing or a streaming service so that games are streamed live more consistently.
But I also think for this to happen the league needs to be more consistent in terms of fixtures, here in Italy every team will play on Saturday at 4pm, which is easier for the coverage
What are your feelings for the imminent World Cup qualification stages?
I’m very excited. I was involved in the last World Cup campaign but with very little experience. So I’m really looking forward to Latvia and hopefully playing a bigger role than the last.
What’s your dream?
My dream has always been to be a role model for all upcoming Futsal goalkeepers in the UK and inspiring more people to get involved in the game.
How important is to you to have gained a Degree alongside your Futsal career?
Vital! For all players that want to play a professional sport, not just Futsal, it’s crucial to have an education behind you. A severe injury could cause you to stop playing sport and without a good education, you could be struggling to find an alternative path in life.
Also I found that having a distraction from Futsal in the form of a degree helped me keep my head down and stay organised which for sure helped me within my training. Also other work besides Futsal helps switch off the Futsal brain, however much you love to play the sport you need days off to recuperate and having a degree to focus on was great for that.
How important was the IFA and Loughborough Futsal in your development?
Everything. I hadn’t even heard of Futsal before Loughborough and wouldn’t be where I am today without the IFA or Loughborough Futsal Club.
The full time training programme offered by the IFA prepared me for the professional setups I play for today. The coaching staff have such a large depth of knowledge and I took full advantage of that from every training session.
What do you miss most about your time at Loughborough?
The ‘togetherness’ of the group. Loughborough is such a great place as everything and everyone is close by. Me and the other players would regularly meet up out of training times as a group and it was just an all round great environment.
Any advice for kids starting Futsal now?
I’d say for all the young players out there, in addition to your training, watch as many videos online of Futsal in other countries as you can. I learnt a lot from watching the likes of Paco Sedano. I would watch his decision-making and work out why he did certain actions at specific times and then take that back to my training and try it out.
How should players in the UK approach playing abroad?
First of all the most important thing is that you have a highlights reel prepared. From there I would suggest contacting players that you know that have played professionally abroad as they will have the contact details to help find you an agent. Also it’s good if you build up your social media pages so that teams looking at you can understand what you’re about and check out more videos on you page (it’s basically your sporting CV).
We wish Mark continued success and can’t wait to see what else is to come in his futsal career.
Interview by IFA’s Goalkeeper Dijari Marouf