Built with the help of the UEFA HatTrick assistance programme and officially opened in April 2013 by UEFA President Michel Platini, the Football Association of Wales' (FAW) Dragon Park development centre in Newport is already showing its worth, with 150 delegates visiting for a national coaching conference in May.
"This a special time for Welsh football, and I think this facility reflects what a bright future Welsh football has," Everton FC manager Roberto Martínez told UEFA.com after looking around the new facility, which includes two grass outdoor pitches, access to one third generation artificial pitch, a suite of changing areas that includes a physio room and four ice baths, plus conference facilities.
"UEFA have always been very keen to help the game at grassroots level, as well as smaller nations, but I think they are more supportive of good visions, and good people behind them, rather than just supporting a nation for the sake of it. The funding is obviously important, but it's more important to have a vision, and to know what to do with that money."
Martínez, who himself achieved the UEFA Pro licence through the FAW coach education programme, was one of a number of high-profile guests from across Europe at the event. "Events like this are vital," he added. "As a young coach you need a bit of direction and I always feel that you need that bit of inspiration. These courses help you to be in control of your thoughts, to be inspired to think and to debate the game, which is a passion we all share."
Joining Martínez was former Arsenal FC and Germany goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, another product of the FAW coaching system. "You can see that there's a lot of passion and thought gone into this amazing facility," Lehmann told UEFA.com. "It's an act of solidarity on UEFA's behalf that even smaller nations like Wales can benefit from the universe that is European football. It's good to see UEFA supporting the ambitions of smaller nations."
Aberystwyth Town FC manager Ian Hughes – also a coach development officer for the Welsh Football Trust, Wales' grassroots development organisation – came through the FAW coaching programme and said of Dragon Park: "It gives us an identity. This is where we can develop players and coaches to represent Wales in the future."
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