Our Tranmere Rovers FC Futsal National League team have already been on quite a journey five games in. The first game was a thrilling 7-6 victory, Samuel Garcia starring with four goals. In the next game away at Loughborough, he went over his knee awkwardly just 30 seconds after kick-off when competing for the ball. He went down screaming in pain and you knew it was bad.
At halftime I asked to take him to the hospital – the ambulance wouldn’t come because they were too busy. We drove to Loughborough Hospital, and they had a two hour wait. So we went straight to Liverpool Hospital – a 2.5 hour drive on a Sunday night.
Meamwhile at Loughborough University, after being up 4-1 at halftime, the team conceded 9 unanswered goals in the second half to lose 10-4. A rare justification of the cliché phrase ‘a game of two halves’. And maybe a hint at the effect someone’s presence can have on a team.
We first thought that best case, he’d be back before Christmas. Worst case out for the season. Early last week we got the scan results back and it was worse than first feared. He had done three out of four ligaments ligaments in that knee. Many players never come back from this. The anticipated recovery includes three surgeries and recoveries over a two year period, with no guarantees of being the same player he was.
It was devastating news. Samu has played futsal since he was five years old and in the 2b level in Spain, where futsal is a professional sport. He captained his team at the age of 22. If futsal was his life, then this was death.
Damon and the physio Hayley told Samu the results in the Club Café before training. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever watched, in futsal or in life. He was distraught. I’m just glad we had a strong mother figure in Hayley there to say the right things because I couldn’t talk without crying. I saved that for the drive home by myself.
But, although devastating, I want to focus on the player and person Samu is. Not just the number 7 on a tactics board.
I attended a Talent ID CPD event at the Manchester FA earlier this year by The FA Talent ID Manager Nick Levett . One of the quotes that stuck with me is that coaching is more than the Xs and Os, it’s about connecting with people. There’s more to it than a whiteboard. Samu shows that which is why the team miss him, and it shook everyone.
Samu was good on the ball, strong, could shoot off both feet and controlled the game tactically from the back. Four goals in the first match shows that; he has a good connection with the ball. But it doesn’t show his ability to connect with people.
More than what he could do with the ball, technically or tactically, Samu had a greater awareness. I believe that few players have it; the understanding of their effect on the rest of the team. As my recent interview with Dave Payne showed – there is consuming and there is contributing.
As one of the better players, this carries more responsibility. Not to affect the ball, but to affect people. Because he was one of our best, the players looked up to him and respected him.
I never saw Sam lose control in frustration or have a go at a team mate or the opposition. In preseason we had a situation in a match that very nearly erupted after one of our players got kicked in the head after the opposition keeper snapped. They had both slid in for the ball and the keeper got up and kicked our player in the head.
For him to lose control, would give our players little chance of maintaining cool heads – in a confrontation situation like this, or at any time in the competitive pressure during the game. If he freaked out or showed uncertainty this would send the wrong message to the players. How could the players then keep calm, if a leader Samu had lost control of his emotions?
He showed that same patience and understanding to players when they would make mistakes. Whether they were decision making or execution errors, I didn’t see Samu lashing out at players. He may have wanted to out of frustration. But he wasn’t there for himself, he was there for the team.
Instead, he sought to build players up and help teach them, rather than give in to frustration. Where knocking our own players down in anger can boost our ego and show we are ‘above’ them, being selfless and lifting them when they need it is a lot harder.
I saw it at our first preseason games against the Welsh club Wrexham and Super League side Manchester Futsal. I thanked him after for helping keep the players calm and ‘tranquilo’.
Samu was the player that when we came in to the whiteboard after an intense session on the court, he was congratulating and encouraging players for their work ethic, one by one. He was the player that was talking to others and discussing solutions during games and trainings. He was the one that worked hardest in preseason and worked the whole time, ran to the end and completed the sets. He was the player that understood that our English players – some are brand new to the game so knew nothing, needed guidance, patience and support. He was the player that kept things calm on the court in highly stressful competitive match situations.
He wasn’t there to better himself, he was there to better everyone around him.
Greater than the four goals he might score in a game, or nine goals we might concede in the second half against Loughborough, he was helping every one of our players grow. Across a squad of 20+ players, that’s a huge effect.
I hope as a positive from this he starts his coaching qualifications sooner, which can give him another focus as he starts his long road of recovery to playing again.
And for the team, we don’t have Samu for the rest of the season. Selfishly, we hope he will be involved with Tranmere Rovers Futsal in the future. I don’t think his work here is finished.
But his effect on the team lives on, and we can show it. We can all try to help each other be better. To recognise our effect on each other. To be resilient through hard times and losses. To contribute rather than consume. To lift each other up. And to be more like Samu.
Because futsal is about more than just the Xs and Os.
It’s about connecting with people.