Just like many young Spanish people, Ignacio Casillas is another example of an entrepeneur who looked for fortune outside of Spain during the recession. However, this 32-year-old from Caceres has something that turns him into an atypical emigrant: working as a consultant during the day, he gets on his car in the evening, changes his suit with tapes and knee guards, and drives almost two hours away from Warsaw. There, he trains with his new team, Gatta Futsal, runner-up champions of the Ekstraklasa, that is, Polish futsal’s first division.
After two years living in Warsaw and playing in the Second Division between the posts of AZS Univerwersytet Warazwski (University of Warsaw), Ignacio this year had the opportunity to join one of the most popular Polish teams – something he already noticed during his first training sessions − with the intention to help win the national title. The club from Zdunska Wola came very cose to victory in the last few years. Ignacio is a really interesting guy, and thanks to him we will understand the situation many Spanish people are living, as well as know something more about a futsal league unknown to us.
Question: You arrived in Warsaw two years ago with the idea of building yourself a professional future outside the pitch. Is that right?
Answer: Before I arrived in Poland I was almost retired from futsal, as in the last season I was not signed for a range of problems: I broke a finger, had pneumonia… When I wanted to recover, there were only three months of competition left. The coach had the group well defined at that point, so I did not join the team. My girlfriend was in Poland for the Erasmus programme, so I decided that if I could not play futsal, I had to focus on finding a job, and I found it there.
P: After those injuries, weren’t you afraid of suffering another injury and being dismissed?
A: I’ve been competing (and winning) since I was 10 in Extremadura, and in all these years I have never been injured. I don’t think I have lost more than three or four games in my whole career. My only injury is the one I was telling you with my finger. It was for a kick from a teammate in training, so I wasn’t afraid at all. You are never free, but I was never excessively worried.
Also, I am not going to tell you that work conditions in Poland are a panacea, but they actually are pretty good. I am in a very accessible company. I haven’t suffer any setback but, if I had, I don’t think it would have affected me negatively. My boss knows that playing futsal is my dream, and they always let me leave work earlier to get to practice on time.
P: That’s surprising, because from outside, you think Polish people are kind of strict…
R: They actually are, but they are getting more American. There are many American multinationals, they don’t care how you organise your job as long as you are productive. When it’s time to go out, it’s your own boss who tells you to go home. There are thing we should learn in Spain… My boss, for example, doesn’t care if I work at home or in the office as long as I work. She fully trusts my commitment, and this has a positive effect on my performance.
Q: You started your adventure in Poland at University of Warsaw. How is Polish Second Division? As a goalkeeper, is good physical condition really important?
R: Absolutely, you should see the blows we get (laughter). In the last year and a half I directed goelkeeping training sessions and I had to give a physical boost to adapt to match demands. They alway try the tackle, put the foot… In addition, matches are longer because there are more breaks, and you often end up exhausted, even though you are between the posts.
Q: How do you live futsal in Poland? Are there fans?
A: There is everything. I saw full arenas in Second Division, with more than 2000 people every match, and then you see arenas like ours in Warsaw, with a capacity of 300 and an average attendance of 100… The closest we got to fill it was when we met a team from First Division for Cup games. That’s understandable, Warsaw has so much to offer in terms of entertairnment that people split. And here, “big” football is a religion. I went twice and put up with two 0-0. However, the stadium was full and the fans wouldn’t stop chanting throughout the match. Football players are almost gods, while we are barely recognised sometimes… Undoubtly, it is in small towns where people go and see matches, fill the arenas and create a great atmosphere. From this point of view, Poland is quite similar to Spain. You won’t find in Madrid or Barcelona the same passion for futsal as in Valdepeñas or Segovia.
Q: You’re taking the leap to First Dvision with Gatta Futsal, a club aiming to the title every year. Any pressure of winning after two consecutive years in second place?
A: Not at all. They have got a title and three second places in the last four years. They are very experienced and they are waiting to see how the season will develop, but without pressure. This year, when I arrived, the league announced a change that the Polish didn’t like. They introduced the playoffs, replacing the formula they had until today, which was quite confusing and unfair. However, they also announced that they would keep the two-group system (I guess because of all the doubts), even tough points will not be divided in two like in the past. This is detrimental to my team, because we always lose many points during the regular season, but we will fight to death since the beginning.
Q: You define yourself as a “classic goalkeeper”, without playing much with your legs. Would you like a change in rules to give that unique identity back to futsal?
A: I used to play with the old rules as a kid, they changed them when I was around fifteen, and they actually disrupted my game: I had a great throw, the ball bounced just behind the halfway line. I always got my teammate away from the marker. Anybody can throw from side to side nowadays, you only have to exercise strength. Maybe it gives spectacularity to the game, but now any team breaks the best tactics with a 30-metre throw. The player had to think more in the past, short passes had to be more accurate, you used to learn more varieties of throws… But this doesn’t mean that everything is bad. Even though I would like to limit goalkeeper throws to your own half, not being allowed to go out of the penalty area limited us very much. I was booked in every game (laughter), so I it benefited me in a way.
Q: Do you think futsal is regressing?
A: In terms of quality, absolutely. A pívot from back in the day was a thousand times better tacically than any of today’s wingers. I remember Choco, you could put him as a cierre and he played away from pressure with a perfect ball control. There are many norms that are demeaning the game.
Q: They say goalkeepers must be crazy because they prefer to avoid goals instead of scoring them. Do you remember your first time between the posts? Is it vocational?
A: I like being a goalie, is what I’ve always done. That comes from my family, my uncle was a goalkeeper. My idol as a kid was Paco Buyo. I used to watch a lot of handball and always focused on how goalies played. I remember Jaume Fort, goalkeeper for Teka Cantabria, more than any other player.
Q: You work in the morning and you drive for three hours (between going there and the travel back home) to practice in the evening, not to mentions games and away trips. In addition to that, you have a blog and a YouTube channel. Isn’t it hard?
A: My girlfriend earned herself a spot in heaven with me (laughter). At University of Warsaw we didn’t see each other much, but now even less. I leave the workplace, then I go to practice, and when I get home it’s just to have dinner and little more. My parents’ support is important, but it’s her who convinced me to accept the offer. She knew they were offering me a dream and “forced” me to accept it.
As for the blog, and especially the channel, they are a little bit isolated. You spend a lot of time thinking about what you want to do, how to shoot the video, etcetera, and even when you upload something with good intentions, to help people who could be in a situation similar to yours, you see that you have few views and you don’t feel like keeping on doing it, honestly. But I will keep on doing it, because I like it and I think is useful, not to show off, but for people who live in Spain and have doubts about going abroad.
Q: In a recent article in your blog, you analyse how to prepare your mind as a substitute goalkeeper. You lived both sides of the coin. Do you think you are ready to see matches from the bench, if it’s going to be the case?
A: My role is clear, Gatta’s coach signed me as third goalkeeper. Of course I will train to change this situation, and when I’ll have my chance I’ll do my best to make him rely on me more often, but it’s not an obsession. The maturity I acquired in my last year in Caceres makes me face this role with serenity. And as I said at the beginning, this situation, at first unfavourable, led me to look for fortune in Warsaw. Of my two season in Segunda B [third tier in Spain], just before coming here, my best memory is when my assistant coach back in the day (Marcelo Almeida) once put me in front of my teammates and took me as an example of courage, determination and how things should be done. I’ll take that.
We will also leave with this thought. Ignacio, besides being an honest man you could spend hours chatting with, is an example of how you can find time for anything, if you do it with eagerness and enthusiasm. That’s why his success with Gatta will also be Futsal Corner’s success. And that’s why we wish him the best in his new adventure. As for him, we are sure that we will fight for that.
Images: El periódico de Extremadura