A Long Term Professional Approach

Altan Ramadan Toffa Leave a Comment

Adnan Januzaj represents the next generation of Belgian talent.

While resources help, a professional attitude costs nothing.

Empoli FC is a wonderful example of this mindset.  Despite being located in a city of just 40,000 people, 11 home grown players were in Empoli’s Serie A squad during the recently contested 2014 / 2015 season.

The academy approach which Matteo and Alessandro will share this week in Auckland has contributed to both this achievement and the performances of ACF Fiorentina.

Soccer Italian Style coaches Matteo Fazzini (ACF Fiorentina) and Alessandro Limone (Empoli FC) are providing young Auckland footballers with an elite Italian youth academy footballing experience this week.

Central to the Italian talent development system is the concept of building a type of player that fits the playing philosophy of a club.

Soccer Italian Style director Mirko Mazzantini describes this system as “coaching continuity.”  Through this approach, players do not have a high turnover in the number of coaches that they work with and receive the benefit of aligned instruction over a number of years.

Coaching continuity is a theme that has also been adopted in the world’s top 2 FIFA ranked men’s nations – Germany and Belgium.

Following a winless, bottom of the group result for Germany at the 2000 European Championship the DFB (governing body of football in Germany) realised it needed to develop more top tier players.

The answer was to make it mandatory that each professional club in Germany had to have an academy programme.

In 2005 audits were introduced by the DFB to ensure quality of the academies.  The audit process is extremely detailed and involves club interviews, observation and data analysis to determine how an academy is performing.  Clubs are graded on a 0-3 scale and DFB development funding linked to the evaluation result.

A core success factor of the audit process is the talent identification and development capability of a club.  To become a 3 star rated academy a club has to demonstrate that it has a philosophy of what type of player it wants to develop.  This philosophy needs to be reflected in organised multi-year instruction and specific lesson plans for each age group.

The success of this programme can be seen in the performance of Eintracht Frankfurt – owners of one of the best academies in Germany.  Last year 4 of Eintracht Frankfurt’s regular starters in the Bundesliga were home grown academy talent.

While funding in Germany for the best academies is enormous, the evaluation approach is also used in Belgium, a country with a much smaller football economy.

Belgium co-hosted the 2000 European Championships and also departed in the group stages.  Despite qualifying for the 2002 World Cup it slid down the FIFA rankings to be as low as 71 in the FIFA rankings by 2007.

It adopted a similar approach to Germany with an emphasis on player development at youth level with the backing of an exhaustive audit system.

This system was implemented at both professional and amateur level and pegged to national federation funding rewards.  The outcome has been an overhaul of Belgian youth development with the result that it has a ‘golden generation’ of talent to select for its national team.

After making the quarterfinals at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Belgium has a stack of terrific players and should make a real impact at the European Championships next year.

While resources help, a professional attitude costs nothing.

Top Flight Football Academy is focused on a taking a long-term approach to talent development.

While Top Flight Football Academy doesn’t have the resources of the big international clubs, it can take learnings from the likes of Germany and Italy and apply them locally.

As Belgium has shown, even with a relatively small population (approximately 11 million), a dedicated development approach can produce outstanding players.

There is no reason this cannot be achieved in New Zealand.

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