An innovative new UEFA project which is tailor-made to help Europe's national associations foster talented young footballers has kicked off in Nyon.
The UEFA Youth Elite Player Development programme will contribute to nurturing talented young players, especially in medium-sized and smaller associations. Three associations – those from Armenia, Georgia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – sent representatives to the House of European Football after being chosen as pilot associations for the programme. UEFA's team, led by head of football development Jean-François Domergue, had visited 15 associations in recent months before deciding on the trio to take part.
The programme follows an initial idea by UEFA President Michel Platini, who announced the project at the Ordinary UEFA Congress in Kazakhstan in March. "The aim is to nurture better players, thereby investing in the future of the European game," Domergue told the three associations at the workshop. "You have the quality and talent, and it is important that these [elements] come to fruition."
Under-14 and U15 players are the focus of the scheme, with the objective being to implement a technical and educational programme within associations which take part, given that proper football education, schooling and conduct are all considered extremely important elements in a young player's development.
A good balance will be essential, with youngsters also being taught life skills and given education in positive values such as fair play and respect, in addition to high-quality technical, tactical and fitness training – the latter in key areas such as nutrition.
Associations will be helped to develop effective national academy systems providing for close relationships between the association, schools and clubs, thus creating a top-quality environment for talented players and a clear link between football training and school education. Another important objective is that accommodation, schools and football pitches should be in the same place to ensure youngsters' full focus.
The inaugural workshop highlighted the importance of coordinators at youth academies to achieve the schooling/football balance, as well as the essential need for a scouting system to be put in place, to detect and discover a country's promising young footballers. A presentation from athletic coach Loïc Borie demonstrated appropriate training for youngsters of 14 and 15, who are at a key stage in their physical development in this age group. Borie and coaches from FYROM and Georgia also took part in a practical session at Colovray, involving 22 local elite U14 players.
The next steps will see Domergue, a former French international player and club coach, visit the association academies in Armenia, FYROM and Georgia, starting in August, to begin implementation of the pilot project. He will spend eight days with the youngsters, living and eating with them from day to day, and getting to know their environment, both footballing and otherwise.
"A programme established by and for footballers," as Michel Platini puts it – with the associations who take part hopeful that the new Cristiano Ronaldo may be within their reach.
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