After an illustrious playing career with Italy and AC Milan, Gianni Rivera is five months into his role as president of the youth sector at the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and keen to emphasise that "young people are our hope" as the Azzurri aim to bounce back from a disappointing FIFA World Cup.
Known as the 'Golden Boy' of the Italian game, Rivera won the Ballon d'Or in 1969, the UEFA European Football Championship a year earlier, as well as two European Champion Clubs' Cups during 19 years with Milan. He is now part of a restructuring at the FIGC that placed Roberto Baggio in charge of the technical sector and former head coach Arrigo Sacchi as overseer of the junior national teams from Under-21 to U16.
"Italian football has a long tradition and the necessary experience to achieve many goals in the future," Rivera told UEFA.com. "Young people are our hope, not only for football. We have to teach them good values but, at the same time, we must listen to them about their dreams and what they would like to become.
"The grassroots is the future. Using the experience that comes from the past, it will be possible to create the best opportunities for the younger generation, teaching them how powerful football can be as a tool to socialise, to overcome differences, creating the opportunity for integration between different cultures."
Rivera, whose first footballing steps were taken on the streets of Alessandria, remains the second youngest player to have appeared in Serie A after his debut for home-town club US Alessandria Calcio 1912 aged 15 in 1959. Never an aggressive player, the playmaker was famed for his delicate touch, vision and passing ability and, appropriately, wants future generations to be trained with an emphasis on technical skills.
"The main philosophy is to improve the technical aspects in young players and to avoid, as has occurred in the past, favouring the physical," said Rivera. "There must also be a focus on developing players from our clubs rather than taking players who have been developed abroad."
A one-star member of UEFA's Grassroots Charter, the FIGC has clear targets as part of its new youth development strategy. "We must establish a new sports culture that starts from having fun regardless of success or money," continued the 67-year-old.
"We must also oversee the training of youth coaches in order to make them true teachers of football who are also capable of dealing with the behavioural and ethical growth of young players. This will help, together with their schools and families, to make them good people because only a few will become great players."
Both of Rivera's colleagues designated with the task of revitalising the Italian game, Baggio and Sacchi, can certainly claim to be football champions and he is optimistic the trio can inspire the nation's youth. "I hope it will happen," he said. "But we are more worried about what we will be able to do to change the bad habits in our world.
"I can say that we have started a good job together. I have always thought that a strong team makes any idea you have stronger and together you have more of a chance to realise any project."
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