Vinny Leite’s incredible path to lead the Solomon Islands Kurukuru


Leite was born and raised in Brazil where he developed a love for futsal and showed great promise as a young player.

Solomon Islands are on course for a third straight loss at the 2021 Futsal World Cup, but coach Vinny Leite celebrates every consolation goal with all the enthusiasm of a Champions League winner.

After losing 6-0 to Morocco and 7-0 to Portugal, their last group game against Thailand ends in a 9-4 loss.

It might not seem like much, but their four goals and the fact that they haven’t conceded in double digits is a significant sign of progress for Leite’s underdogs.

The tiny Pacific nation of just over 650,000 has qualified for the last four Futsal World Cups – most recently edging New Zealand for a delayed tournament berth in Lithuania.

While qualifying in itself is a huge achievement, the Solomon Islands continue to advance on the world futsal stage as they attempt to strike well above their weight.

At the World Cup in 2008, they lost 31-2 to Russia and conceded 69 goals in four games. It’s no wonder Leite cherishes small wins in a 9-4 loss 13 years later.

The 11 goals that changed Vinny Leite’s life and turned him into an Australian

Leite was born and raised in Brazil where he developed a love for futsal and showed great promise as a young player.

Life in this South American country was tough with growing bills and no way to pay them, which allowed her to acquire English skills during a six-month stay in Australia.

The then 25-year-old did various menial jobs to earn money and just days before his return to Brazil, a futsal match changed his life.

“I was about to leave Australia on a Tuesday and then on a Saturday I went to play a futsal match against the Northern Rivers region state team,” Leite told Sporting News.

“It ended 14-4 against us. I scored 11 goals. So the owner of this club we beat said, ‘Oh my god, I need someone to run my academy here. .

“I knew it would be the game of my life because my friend said in advance that they were looking for a player and a coach.

“So the funny thing is that this person was talking to my friend in English after the game and I couldn’t understand them. My friend is Brazilian and he was translating me. I was talking to him and he was translating to the Lady.

“Fast forward, you know, almost 12 years ago, I became a permanent Australian resident last May and now have my own business (Just Futsal NSW) and speak English quite fluently now.”

Brazilian Australian takes over Solomon Islands

So, after a chance relocation to Australia, how did a Brazilian living in Australia end up coaching the Solomon Islands futsal team?

While playing futsal in Queensland, Leite crossed paths with his then coach and organized a tournament for the team against various clubs in Australia.

He eventually took care of the Solomon Islands team after their coach was unable to travel and was so impressed that he was invited to become an assistant at the 2016 Futsal World Cup.

“The only position available was that of goalkeeper coach,” said Leite.

“But I told them, ‘I’ll be the ball boy. I’ll be the water boy. I’m going to tie their shoelaces. I’ll do anything to go to the World Cup.’

Two years later, Leite was the first person the team turned to when they needed a new chef.

“I thought it was a joke, but I’ve been their coach since 2019,” he said.

Lightweight vs heavyweights at Futsal World Cup

From the start of his relationship with Solomon Islands, Leite has focused on teaching a team, previously focused on individual offensive flair, how to defend and structure their game.

While the nation’s skills and drive to succeed have seen them stand out in the Pacific, they remain underdogs on the world stage.

“So it’s like you’re talking about boxing, we’re lightweight. You know, in the lightweight division, which is the Pacific Islands, we’re the champions,” Leite said.

“Then we go to a World Cup and it’s like a heavyweight fight that we will always fight in, but we want to move from the lightweight division to the middleweight division now.”

Fighting above their weight class, the Solomon Islands have lost their last three World Cup games, but they weren’t brutal knockouts like those suffered a decade ago.

“Looking at the performances of the teams we have played against and looking at where we are from, I think we have done well,” said Leite.

“For us, the experience has been amazing. If we didn’t prepare and improve in all aspects of our game, I think the scores could have been at least double digits.

“I told the players, we’re here to impress the world and if we’re going to lose let’s make it a respectable loss. We don’t want to lose 31-2 anymore.

“I had a disagreement with one of our managers during the tournament because he thought we should attack more and I asked him, ‘Do you want us to lose 5-0 or 11-1?’ And he said 11 to 1. That’s the mindset I’m trying to change.

“So when we lost our games, the players were actually happy. Not happy with the result. But with the performance because we defended well and were able to keep our heads up.”

Australia’s ‘disrespectful’ relationship with futsal

When Leite travels to the Solomon Islands, he finds a country in love and obsessed with futsal.

A training session he organized saw nearly 1,000 locals show up to watch, while Leite himself is often pulled into the streets for a photo.

This is a far cry from Australia’s current stance on futsal – the country failed to qualify for the recent World Cup and a fractured relationship with football is not helping the football cause.

“I think Australia is the only country I’ve been to that disrespects futsal,” said Leite.

“Football culture tells players not to play futsal. Tells them it’s bad for their joints, teaches them to be selfish, claims it’s played on a bad surface.

“Australia disrespects futsal and we could be a powerhouse in the sport with the right investment and the right approach.

“I always say to football clubs: ‘If you can’t incorporate futsal into your program, at least cooperate with futsal. Let’s work together and don’t stop your players from playing futsal.’

“A lot of clubs tell their players that if they play futsal they will be kicked from the squad.”

Despite these challenges, the appetite for futsal in Australia remains strong and Leite hopes it can be exploited and not hindered to move forward.

“My futsal academy started with 200 players. Last year we had 700 and I’m looking at 900 this year,” he said.

“Australia could make it to the next World Cup and follow in Thailand’s footsteps by moving past the group stages.

“Football has to embrace futsal. It can’t be afraid of losing players in futsal because you just shoot yourself in the foot that way.”

Given his background and recent experience, Leite seems like a man worth listening to.

Source: Sports news


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