The Swiss Football Association (SFA) has big plans for the development of women's football in the country – with assistance from UEFA's HatTrick programme, it aims to have in excess of 30,000 people playing the sport in total.
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Women's football in Switzerland is on the rise. Their Under-19 side may have failed to qualify for the knockout stage of the UEFA European Women's U19 Championship that the country hosted, despite beating Norway and drawing with France. However, the future looks bright for the sport moving forward.
The SFA has invested heavily in women's football and the grassroots game over recent years. And when setting out its development programme, the SFA decided to create the Swiss Women’s Football Academy in Biel/Bienne – some 40km north-west of the capital Berne – where it would invite the most talented female players from across the country can train.
Part of the funding has come from the UEFA HatTrick programme. This initiative works in four-year cycles, with the current edition providing €610.5 million up until 2020, which works out at almost €153 million per year that assists UEFA's 55 national associations in nurturing football development. Grants from European football's governing body now allow the SFA to support around 30 girls each year – giving them the best possible education on and off the pitch.
"The development of youth football has of course high priority within our federation," said the president of the SFA, Peter Gilliéron. "The UEFA HatTrick programme has helped us to progress faster and to be more efficient in our youth football policy."
Guede says her "amazing" experience in Biel/Bienne not only facilitated the learning of new skills on the field but helped with her all-round personal development.
"There were a lot of great moments, but I'd say the highlights were the matches and the time we spent getting to know each other better off the pitch," she insisted.
"Ultimately, we were all in the same boat: all experiencing life far away from our families, which created a real bond between us. I think that's the best thing that we took with us from the academy."
Players at the Swiss Women’s Football Academy train from Monday to Friday, then at the weekends they play with their club sides. Certified SFA coaches, like Brigitte Steiner who is in charge of the Swiss U16 women’s national team or Monica di Fonzo, who oversees the women’s U17s, run the training sessions and focus on improving the girls' technique, tactical awareness, physical condition and speed.
However, their performance off the park is equally important, as the girls follow an educational programme organised by the city of Biel/Bienne which aims to prepare them for professional careers, whether they stay in football or not.
"We always stayed overnight with a host family but we left them in the morning to go to school," said Switzerland U19 midfielder Malin Gut, another Biel/Biennel alumna.
"We had training, sometimes twice, sometimes only once. Then we had lunch together and after lunch back to school again. On certain days we also had a supervised time for homework where we all studied together. In the evenings we ate together."
Women's football is on an upward curve in Switzerland. The country qualified for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada in 2015 for the first time, where they reached the round of 16, while Switzerland also made its debut at last year's UEFA Women's EURO in the Netherlands, putting in a highly creditable showing and missing out on the knockout phase by just a point.
"We hope to have in excess of 30,000 women players in the next few years," said Gilliéron. "We have significantly increased the number of women players in Switzerland and we want to take a further step forward. The impressive success of our women's national teams in recent years has helped – and will help – to increase the popularity of women's football in Switzerland."
The SFA has also been investing heavily in its boys programme – although using a slightly different model. While female youth development is centralised around the Swiss Women’s Football Academy, the Swiss FA took a decision to decentralise the system for boys.
The three-year programme, which started in July 2017, involves around 540 youngsters training with eight clubs around the country on a full-time basis. Each of the clubs follows federation guidelines and quality criteria under the supervision and coordination of an SFA technical director.
'Today's children are tomorrow's future'
By enabling the most talented youngsters to link up with top clubs, the hope is they will be exposed to a higher level of football than if they were playing in a centralised academy. The scheme is partly funded through UEFA HatTrick.
"It is of the utmost importance that we continue to support our national associations in developing grassroots football across the continent by providing funding, knowledge-sharing and education," said UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin. “Today's children are tomorrow's future and we have to play our part in ensuring they have access to the best possible facilities in order for them to develop a lifelong love of football and to help them reach their full potential in the game."
Since the HatTrick programme's inception ahead of UEFA EURO 2004, UEFA has invested €1.8bn into providing crucial infrastructure and sporting assistance for its national associations. This figure will rise to €2.6bn by 2024, making HatTrick one of the largest sports development programmes in the world.
Back in 2004, the basic principle was to reinvest revenue from the UEFA European Championship into the growth and development of everyday football. Money isn't everything, and so HatTrick was founded on three core pillars that still apply – financial assistance, knowledge-sharing and education.
Because the funding comes directly from the UEFA EURO, HatTrick runs in four-year cycles, with the UEFA Executive Committee increasing the amount made available on the back of each tournament.
Currently, every national association has at its disposal, an initial funding of €3.5m payment to develop football at all levels, with any project subject to approval from UEFA's HatTrick Committee. The associations also pick up an annual solidarity payments of up to €1.9m each, with the majority of the funds to be used to facilitate participation in youth, women's and futsal competitions, as well as developing women’s and grassroots football for example. The current HatTrick cycle began in 2016, running through to 2020.
The Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB) national training centre in Zeist was partly funded with HatTrick money. National training facilities have also been built in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Portugal and Slovenia with backing from the scheme.
Switzerland and member associations from across Europe are reaping the rewards of the HatTrick programme, as UEFA shows its commitment to ensuring that football development remains a top priority around the continent and that youngsters are given the best possible facilities in order to try and reach the highest level possible.