Max Kilman is the England international nobody has ever heard of. He could walk down any busy high street in the country without turning a single head, and even the mere mention of his name would draw blank looks from the majority of football fans.
Yet the 21-year-old left-back has 25 England caps to his name and has already played a starring role for the Three Lions in two epic tussles with Germany since he first pulled on the national shirt as a teenager.
But after getting his dream move to the Premier League in the form of a deadline-day switch to Wolves, Kilman could be set to call time on his international career.
It might sound like the implausible career of a Football Manager regen suffering from a bizarre in-game glitch, but Kilman’s story is real. The only catch is that the international honours he’s received aren’t from football: he’s part of England’s senior futsal squad. Or at least he was until his move to Molineux.
“In all honesty, I don’t think I’ll have any time to do futsal now because I’ll be training with Wolves every day,” admits Kilman just days after securing his move from National League side Maidenhead United.
“I want to try to organise something so I can still play for England, but it’s difficult and I’m not sure it’ll happen. Of course I’m going to be upset if that does happen, but it’s a risk I have to take to become a professional footballer.”
Even if Kilman becomes one of the country’s youngest international retirees, he’ll still remain part of a select band of top-level English footballers to have benefited from playing the small-sided indoor sport. That exclusive band, which includes the likes of Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho and Watford’s Will Hughes, doesn’t feature many who have a selection of gold-tasseled England caps from the sport, though.
It could have been a very different story. Only three years earlier, with Kilman on loan at seventh-tier Marlow from Maidenhead, the talented teenager was considering jacking in football to chase the professional dream in futsal. After all, he knew that one of the sports would have to give if he was going to make it to the top of either code.
“When I was 18 and first in the England futsal team, I was definitely considering going abroad to become professional,” Kilman recalls.
“Football maybe wasn’t going as well for me and wasn’t heading anywhere, so I was considering it. I was playing for Maidenhead’s youth team and slowly broke through, but when I did get into the first team, I was sent on loan two leagues below. It was difficult and a long process.
“It was a bit physical [at Marlow] and while it was enjoyable, I was starting to wonder where my football career was going to go. That’s why I was even more willing to play futsal.”
With futsal still relatively low-profile in Britain, Kilman would have struggled to make a living from the sport in his homeland and would probably have had to follow the lead of England team-mates who moved to the continent to play in Italy or Croatia.
While it’s not unusual for futsal players to choose the sport over football, Kilman kept plugging away with both, often turning out for Maidenhead on a Saturday before a game of futsal for London Helvecia on a Sunday. Juggling the two was a challenge, with Kilman forced to miss occasional matches or training sessions depending on different priorities.
As well as the physical hardship involved, flip-flopping between sports also brought a mental strain. While a hoofed clearance might suffice in non-league, futsal players require more subtle movements and touches to be successful. So, did Kilman ever find he got the two mixed up after a taxing weekend?
“No, I could do it all right,” he answers confidently. “I learned quite quickly and adapted to both, whereas some people might not be able to the play other sport or take a while to swap. But I did it quite quickly, which was lucky. There’s a bit of transition, but you need to know what you have to do.
“It’s mainly remembering what you need to do the job. It’s about thinking ‘OK, now I’m playing futsal, I need to make more movements off the ball’, but in football you’re in one position, so you don’t pass and move in the same way. In futsal, you need to constantly keep moving and realise you need to be a bit more forward-thinking.
“Futsal helps with football quite a lot. Everybody thinks it’s all about making you better controlling the ball, but it’s about being more aware, more comfortable on the ball and making better decisions. It helps because it’s really fast and the area is much smaller, so when I came back to football, I was more confident to get the ball from throw-ins, in more tight areas and I felt like I had way more space when I got on a bigger pitch again.”
It’s those characteristics that Kilman believes aided his progress as a footballer – and, ironically, helped him hone the skills that led to Wolves snapping him up to effectively put the kibosh on his futsal career.
Even if Kilman never sets foot on a futsal court again, the youngster is adamant that more children should use the sport as a breeding ground, just as he did. It’s widespread in other countries – including in leading football nations such as Spain, Brazil and Portugal – yet futsal struggles to be taken seriously in England, as is highlighted by the Three Lions’ lowly world ranking of 52 – behind football minnows Vietnam, Kyrgyzstan and the Solomon Islands.
“It’s very different playing futsal in England because there’s much less exposure,” Kilman explains. “I don’t think people care as much [about being an England futsal international] as if I was playing in Brazil or Spain, but it’s starting to get better in England.
“The main thing for England is to get children playing at a younger age so they can be better on the ball and make better decisions. It’s very difficult to say what England needs to do, but the kids in Brazil and Spain are playing it as their first sport, [before] making a decision as teenagers to make the transition to football or stick with it.
“It’s always difficult over here because every time you look on the internet or social media, you always see football highlights and very rarely futsal. And for 10 or 11-year-olds, it’d be good to be promoting more futsal pages with clips of nice goals or tricks. It’s weird because futsal is more exciting than football; in futsal, each team makes about 30 chances a game at least, whereas in football you might only see one shot on target for the whole half.”
But while Kilman’s futsal career is currently on hold as he dons Wolves’ gold strip, his recent transfer might open the door for him to become a double international in the future. And if he ever gets a cap for England’s football team, he’s guaranteed to turn a few heads while walking down the street.