New Zealand’s longest serving futsal player Marvin Eakins is synonymous with the game on the Shaky Isles.
Born in the Philippines to his Filipina mother Aida and his Irish father Michael, the 34-year-old has carved out an illustrious playing and coaching career. Eakins’ impressive futsal CV includes four New Zealand National League titles, one of them as a player-coach in 2018.
He was NZ Futsal Player of the Year in 2013 and won the NZ Futsal Coach of the Year award in 2018. Since 2008 Eakins has played 59 A International Games for New Zealand scoring 21 goals in the process. He also captained the Futsal Whites between 2010 and 2016 and was appointed the national team’s player-coach in 2017.
OFC Media sat down with Marvin to find out about his vision for the game in New Zealand and across the Pacific region.
How did you get into futsal?
I first played futsal when my junior football team entered a tournament in the mid 90’s. I was around 11 years old and found it challenging as the ball was the extremely heavy and low bounce ball of the time!
It wasn’t until 2006 that I played again. A friend asked me to fill in for his men’s team at East City Futsal in Auckland and from then I haven’t stopped playing. Initially it was just as a chance to supplement my football but somewhere along the line football started to be the supplement to my futsal.
What has the game given you?
This game has given me and continues to give me so much. On the court I have had the opportunity to captain my country and compete on the international stage. I have graced the court with the best players in our region as teammates and rivals.
Futsal has given me so much more off the court. My career has been in futsal development for the last 10 years. I have gotten to be part of a really special futsal community in NZ which has included players, coaches, administrators, parents and officials. I must admit that only in recent years I have been trying to rebuild relationships with officials that I did not appreciate in most of my career. Across this community I have made some really good friends that I would not have had if futsal had not been a part of my life.
What do you consider your top career highlights?
I have been fortunate to have a lot of highlights across my playing and coaching career as well as many learning experiences.
Playing my first World Cup qualifying game against the Solomon Islands in Suva in 2008 was an incredible experience. The crowd was something I had never experienced before, and the Solomon Islands were an outstanding opposition. We lost the game but on reflection it triggered that feeling and drive of “this is where I need to be”.
Reaching my 50th game for NZ and being captain for a majority of that is something that I will treasure and will definitely not take for granted. Leading your team out on the court is a special feeling that I hope others get to experience across their own playing careers.
Hearing the final whistle against Malaysia in 2014 in New Caledonia was one of the best victories we have had in my time against a really good international team. We had an outstanding first half with some great goals and then had to show how well we could defend in the second half as Malaysia really put us under pressure. The relief and later the understanding of what we had achieved with that victory still puts a smile on my face.
Indirectly the futsal journey has put me on a path that had led me to be in certain places in my life. The stars aligned so that I met Kim, my wife, and started an amazing family that has given me an important grounding whilst also supporting my continuing journey.
How do you see the state of the game in NZ and the Pacific and what is your vision for development in our region?
The community level of the game is outstanding in NZ with opportunities for everyone to be involved in futsal across the country at a variety of levels. Juniors, youth, seniors, females and males all get access to futsal.
The Pacific has made huge strides across a lot of the countries in the last 10 years but there is still work to be done to make sure futsal is accessible for everyone.
The talent side of the game needs a lot of work. In NZ we have started more consistent high performance training through a Regional Training Centre model for men. This is still in its early stages and needs to continue improving and start offering the same opportunities for women. I cannot speak for what the other Pacific countries are doing.
It will not surprise many that I think the Pacific has so much potential in futsal with players, officials and coaches. The challenge is to provide the opportunities to develop these key people more, rather than just in short campaigns before a World Cup qualifiers or in a national league that runs over a short format. One of the key learnings from our most recent campaign is that players do not get exposed to the high-pressure situations that a World Cup Qualifier do-or-die match puts you in. This would be the same for coaches and officials. The question remains around how we can get the opportunities to get as close as possible to that high-pressure environment in our own countries and through regional events.
Futsal game knowledge in the OFC region is much lower than most of the regions in the world which has resulted in us all being very reliant on some really good overseas coaches working with a team for a campaign. Scott Gilligan deserves a huge mention here as he has not only coached and worked with national teams across the pacific countries, but he has left a blueprint in how the game can be played as well as developed across a country. In NZ you can see Scott’s influence by the techniques and tactics a large chunk of the futsal community are using now from his time with us.
The vision for development needs to be increasing the player base, improving coaching capability and understanding as well as providing challenging environments not just our national teams but also our up and coming players, officials and coaches. This can only happen with the support of the National Sporting Organisations providing the framework to do so.
Have you seen anything during last’s years Futsal Nations Cup and Champions League to suggest our game is progressing?
The OFC Futsal Nations Cup was a great experience and had a good representation of teams from the Pacific. The difference between this one and previous editions was how squads now had some variety. Several of the teams had a good mix of young and experienced players. It was the first tournament where I thought there were multiple teams that had the ability to win and the closeness of the results showed this. Teams were bringing different tactics, and, in the end, the key games were decided by important moments.
The Champions League is a great step and provided more players, coaches and officials access to a high-level tournament. Once again, we saw a variety of tactics as well as some up and coming players shining for a variety of teams. I am looking forward to seeing how this event will keep improving in future years.
There are signs from these events that progress has been made but more can be made with better systems and programmes in each country. Improving coaching and official knowledge will help get these events closer to the standard seen around the world.
In terms of the Futsal Whites, what’s next for you and for the NZ National team?
Taking the pandemic out of the equation we have restarted our Regional Training Centres and will be looking for international game opportunities. We are at the very early stages of our campaign for the next World Cup cycle, so we have increased the player net to make sure we have the best players for when it matters in a few years’ time.
Personally, I enjoyed a break from futsal but now I am looking forward to getting into some more local coaching and playing. The pandemic has been a terrible situation, but it has provided me with the opportunity to increase my knowledge of the game by tapping into the great futsal communities that are worldwide.
After four unsuccessful World Cup campaigns, and coming so agonisingly close last year, how do you feel about giving qualification another crack?
Of the four campaigns last year’s defeat hurt the most. It’s a campaign that I am proud that I was part of but to not achieve our goal was hard to accept after all the work the players and staff had put into it. As a player I have had to watch another team go live out my dream of competing at a Futsal World Cup several times, but last year’s final [where we lost to the Solomon Islands on penalties] was the first time I felt it was in our hands to achieve that.
My coaching journey has given me a different perspective to see all the learnings along the way and reignited my hunger to see NZ at the next World Cup. I plan to be a part of the next campaign all the way to the World Cup in a way that maximises what I can offer to the team.