Michel Platini's glittering career witnessed him score more than a few sublime goals, and recently the FIFA Executive Committee member was back on the pitch - and back on target - in the Latvian capital of Riga.
The net was bulging during a futsal mini-tournament that kicked off a three-day FIFA Com-Unity seminar, with Platini 'signed' by a Latvian Football Federation side that beat sponsors and politicians on the way to claiming a well-deserved victory. Predictably, Platini scored in both matches, though there were other, more unlikely heroes in the shape of goalscoring LFF President Guntis Indriksons and the team's penalty-saving goalkeeper, LFF commercial director Vladimirs Zuks.
The involvement of the Latvians' legendary French guest ensured the tournament received a great deal of media attention, of course, and it provided an excellent foundation for a highly successful and far-reaching seminar.
When the play stopped and the business of the seminar started, Platini stressed in his opening speech that: "the aim of Com-Unity is to bring people together, on a common platform of communication. This seminar is not only a tool for football development, it is also an outstanding means to increase social values and solidarity for the benefit of the Latvian people, and its young people in particular."
The Latvian Football Federation is a modest association in a small country (population 2.3 million), but it has gone about proving that size isn't everything with its active and creative pursuit of excellence. Its openness to advice also ensured that the input provided at the seminar by various governmental and non-governmental organisations, clubs and FIFA experts, was greatly appreciated, and will now be evaluated and implemented into the association's daily work.
One example was the medical research presented by the Sports Medical Government Agency, which showed that young people playing football enjoy better overall health than non-active Latvian school children. At the conclusion of the seminar, the LFF promised to use this study to promote the positive physical attributes of football.
Dainis Gudermanis, from the youth department of the LFF, said that the findings could be turned into a new slogan: 'Football is the sport with which we can raise a healthy generation'.
Three days of exchanging experiences on relationship-management, communication, marketing and TV led to a number of other important targets being set, such as:
* Increasing the hours of sports activities for school children and encouraging the pre-eminence of football.
* Ensuring that clubs in the domestic top-flight, the LMT Virsliga, have a website and update it regularly, and that they employ a media officer.
* Organising round table sessions between representatives of football and the media to discuss specific topics.
* Organising marketing workshops by the LFF for Latvian clubs, workshops which would include advice from the country's business sector.
* Ensuring a positive response by the clubs to the current domestic league system and to the proposed Baltic League project.
* Committing as a national association to facilitating and encouraging the development of women's football in the country.
* Improving the environment of mass football in co-operation with the local and national community.
"After this seminar, we feel strengthened in our efforts to continue to raise the popularity of football in Latvia," LFF General Secretary Janis Mezeckis said in his closing remarks.
Earlier, Mezeckis had pointed out two more potential fields for development. One was beach football, with particular focus on the popular seaside region of Jurmala, where a joint project between football and tourism could prove mutually beneficial. The other was artificial turf. In 2005, Latvia installed five new pitches with artificial turf and this year they will install three more. The LFF is also making plans for constructing indoor football halls.
The three-day seminar was attended by, among others, the Lithuanian national team coach Jurijs Andrejevs. His views summed up the feelings of many present. He said: "We have been discussing topics that coaches are usually not involved in, such as financing of football and strategies for development of football. By bringing all different parts of the Latvian football together, we have been stressing teamwork.
"Teamwork is the key to success in football, just as our national team showed when qualifying for EURO 2004. Without understanding of different aspects of the game, it is difficult to work in a team. During this seminar we have learned a lot, and I would like to wish for continued success and mutual understanding in Latvian football in the future."