Europe's top club coaches were UEFA's headquarters on Friday for the fifth UEFA Elite Coaches Forum.
A glittering lineup of coaches were in attendance for a morning of discussions with UEFA on a variety of European football issues on and off the field.
The coaches in Nyon were Carlo Ancelotti (AC Milan), Fabio Capello (AS Roma), Héctor Cúper (Internazionale FC), Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United FC), Christian Gross (FC Basel), Ottmar Hitzfeld (FC Bayern München), Marcello Lippi (Juventus FC), Felix Magath (VfB Stuttgart), José Mourinho (FC Porto), Martin O'Neill (Celtic FC) and Arsène Wenger (Arsenal FC) – a group with several cabinets of domestic and international trophies between them.
After being greeted by UEFA's Chief Executive, Gerhard Aigner, the coaches joined senior UEFA officials, including the European body's technical director, Andy Roxburgh, for a meeting that has become a fixed item on the UEFA calendar at the start of each season.
Among the topics on the agenda were a review of the 2002/03 UEFA club competitions from the coaches' perspective. Talking points in language groups will include the new silver-goal ruling, the fixture list, coaches and the bench, and refereeing.
Offside and trends
Technical subjects up for discussion included so-called 'passive' offside – a matter which has also occupied the thoughts of UEFA's élite referees and assistant referees at their start-of-season gathering in Nyon this week – and current tactical trends at the highest level of the game.
Views, ideas and feedback
The forum is seen by UEFA as an excellent opportunity for top club coaches to come together and talk freely in an informal atmosphere about matters of mutual interest, and to exchange ideas away from their normal high-pressure environment. UEFA also welcomes the views and feedback given by coaches with a wealth of experience between them at European football's summit.
UEFA has implemented certain recommendations put forward by the forum in recent years – including the abolition of the sudden-death golden goal in extra time. Instead, the silver goal was introduced for last season's UEFA club competition finals.
Under the ruling, if the match ends in a draw after 90 minutes, a first 15 minutes of extra time is played. If one team is in the lead at the end of the 15 minutes, they win the match. If the sides are still level after 15 minutes of extra time, a second 15-minute period is played. If the result remains deadlocked at the end of the second extra period, a penalty shoot-out will determine the winners. The club coaches will be asked to comment on the success of the silver goal.
The clear picture to emerge from the summit at UEFA's headquarters on the shores of Lake Geneva was that European football's body's decision last year to revamp its major club event had been fully justified. The UEFA Champions League, the coaches said, was an excellently organised competition, in which the best players in the world performed in outstanding stadiums in front of large and enthusiastic crowds, in matches taken charge of by top-quality referees.
The élite coaches said that they were always highly motivated by the challenge of trying to win the Champions League title. With the new format, there would also be a greater possibility for 'outsiders' to cause a surprise against Europe's biggest teams when the competition reached the knock-out phase.
"The coaches are concerned about the calendar, and this is also one of the reasons why they are happy that the Champions League has been modified," said UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh, who chaired the meeting. "They think that UEFA has made the right move."
Deliberations also centred on a variety of different issues ranging from the success of the silver-goal experiment, the international calendar, the number of substitute players and so-called passive offside.
Silver goal improvement
The coaches felt that the silver-goal ruling, introduced for last season's UEFA club finals upon the recommendation of coaches at last year's Elite Forum, was a better alternative than the sudden-death golden goal. They also went on to express the view that the link between the club and national-team calendars needed fresh study, particularly in terms of the release of players for national-team duty. They suggested modifications to national-team match dates, in particular to allow players to return to club duty at an earlier stage before the next domestic matches.
Two extra substitutes
There was unanimous agreement that coaches should be allowed two extra substitutes on the bench for European matches. This would give coaches greater flexibility as regards substitutions, and eliminate situations whereby international players were left sitting in the stands for major games. UEFA was also urged by the coaches to consider increasing the number of drug tests on players, particularly out-of-competition tests.
The meeting concluded that further investigations needed to be carried out into the complicated issue of passive offside. The coaches asked to be kept informed of UEFA's instructions to referees in this area, which had created considerable controversy and discussion.
Homegrown players debate
UEFA asked the coaches to give future input to an ongoing debate, in which the European body is a major participant, about whether a certain number of homegrown players who have risen through a club's ranks could be included in a club's squad. Supporters of the idea say that such a move would have a stimulating effect on youth development in particular.
Something to offer
UEFA is delighted at the progress of its annual coach forums, and has implemented a number of recommendations put forward at such gatherings. "A group like this has something to offer which is very valuable," said Andy Roxburgh. "Many of them were top players and are now top coaches who are dealing with the fine details of football on a daily basis."
"It's very important to listen to them, and then actively try to do something about what they have told us," he added. "It's a vital exercise, and the coaches also find this a crucial forum in which they can express their opinions about various elements of the game."