Coaches' summit bears fruit

Europe's top coaches welcomed their dialogue with UEFA at their meeting in Nyon.

Europe's top club coaches have thanked UEFA for giving them an increasing voice in European football's evolution – and are 100 per cent behind the UEFA Champions League as the world's top club competition.

Crème de la crème
The message came from a gathering of the 'crème de la crème' of the continent’s club coaches, who attended the fourth UEFA Elite Coaches' Forum at UEFA's headquarters in Nyon, Switzerland today.

Various recomendations
The coaches have also put forward a variety of recommendations for UEFA to consider, including the use of a fourth substitute, nine substitutes on the bench instead of the current seven, increased doping controls, and uniform balls and pitch sizes.

Star lineup
Among those present for talks with UEFA officials were Vicente del Bosque (Real Madrid CF) and Klaus Topmöller (Bayer 04 Leverkusen) – coaches of last season's Champions League finalists - Louis van Gaal (FC Barcelona), Carlo Ancelotti (Milan AC), Fabio Capello (AS Roma), Ottmar Hitzfeld (FC Bayern München), Gérard Houllier (Liverpool FC) and Arsène Wenger (Arsenal FC).

Influence development
"I'm grateful that we have the chance to exchange views with UEFA, and have the opportunity to influence football's development," Ottmar Hitzfeld said after the meeting. "I hope that some of the proposals will be implemented at some stage."

Louder voice
"It's most important that UEFA is willing to listen to the top coaches, and that we can speak with a louder voice each year," said Louis van Gaal. "Naturally, we are looking for feedback from those who are deeply involved in our top competitions," replied UEFA Chief Executive Gerhard Aigner. "We hope that we can respond to the coaches' requests."

Use of substitutes
The coaches put forward proposals for the use of an additional fourth substitute in competition matches, as well as nine substitutes on the bench, to offset the increasing pressures that modern-day top matches bring. "The speed of the game is increasing, players are under greater strain, and injuries happen, particularly in extra time," said Hitzfeld. "We think it would be fair if coaches had the possibility to introduce an additional player."

Friendly concern
Europe's coaching elite also expressed concern about national-team friendly dates, as well as world club and intercontinental competitions, which they felt created additional pressure in terms of fixture commitments.

Champions League talks
As for the Champions League, the forum expressed a variety of views about Europe's most prestigious club competition – with Hitzfeld and Van Gaal both welcoming UEFA’s recent decision to abolish the second group stage in favour of a 16-team knockout phase from the 2003/04 season.

Players' health
"I think that the health of the players is in trouble because we have to play a lot of matches, and we have to reduce the calendar for them," said Van Gaal. "I'm not against UEFA's new proposal, and perhaps the knockout system will also bring more spectators and higher TV audiences."

Good move
"We have to look after the health of the players, who are the main actors in the competitions," added Hitzfeld. "Quality suffers with too many games. I think that UEFA's move to reduce the number of games is very good."

High standards
"The coaches around the table were all in agreement that the UEFA Champions League is the top club competition in the world," explained UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh. "They think that standards are extremely high, and are increasing. Clearly, within any group, there is going to be a variety of views – but everybody is 100 per cent behind the Champions League. They think it's a wonderful competition."

Keeping football clean
The coaches suggested that UEFA should consider increasing the number of drug tests at its matches, and even introduce out-of-competition tests. "We feel that that it is very important for football to maintain its campaign to be clean," said Roxburgh. "The coaches are very much about Fair Play – that comes over in everything that they talk about."