Dacourt: Football was a way to forget my troubles
© AFP

When it comes to FIFA's ongoing commitments and year-round work, the various FIFA World Cups are just the tip of the iceberg.

Behind the scenes, FIFA takes an active role in helping develop football throughout the world, implementing programmes to benefit the beautiful game in all its forms, from youth football to women's football, futsal and beach soccer.

To highlight the importance of this role, FIFA.com will be conducting regular interviews with some of football's biggest names currently involved in development work.

To begin this new series in style, FIFA.com met up with former France midfielder Olivier Dacourt. Capped 21 times by Les Bleus, Dacourt lit up the French league before enjoying spells abroad with prestigious clubs including Leeds United, Roma and Inter Milan.

Two years after calling time on his career, he is now busy with a number of new pursuits, including a publishing house and art gallery, but he remains actively involved in the world of football.

Ambitious, generous and above all lucid on the subject of his own future, he opened up to FIFA.com about his career, his new interests, his thoughts on football today and its scope for development.

FIFA.com: How did your career as a footballer begin? How were you first discovered?
Olivier Dacourt: Football has been a passion for me since a very young age. I started out in my local neighbourhood of Aulnay-sous-Bois, a suburb to the north of Paris. At the age of 13, and two years ahead of schedule, I was selected for a scouting camp organised by Saint-Etienne and Strasbourg. I chose Strasbourg so that I could join their youth academy. It was a very difficult period as it was the first time I'd left Paris, and to cope with the challenge I often thought about my neighbourhood. That had been a school of life for me, an important time. It was a source of strength for me throughout my success. Education and respect are a passport for life and that's what I try to teach my children.

What are your thoughts on the state of football development, which FIFA is heavily invested in? How important is it in today's game?
Football development is absolutely key, and FIFA's activities in this area are essential. From youth football to the professional game, FIFA's financial, technical and material support are proving vital to improving disciplines like futsal, beach soccer and women's football, as well as raising the standards of everyone involved, particularly referees and coaches. That support is also contributing to the progress of football in emerging nations, most notably through the development of infrastructure and the organisation of courses.

When I was younger, football was a way to forget my troubles, to meet up with friends and play together for hours, almost like a family.
Olivier Dacourt

Speaking of women's football, do you know who won the most recent FIFA Women’s World Cup™?
Japan! (laughs) I followed the Women's World Cup a little bit. The level the women play at is impressive sometimes. The matches are attractive to watch, the play is committed, spectacular and focused on attack, and standards are rising across the board. women's football has a bright future and its increasing popularity is essential. You only have to look at the France team and the excitement that built up around the squad during the World Cup – it's undeniable. France's women's team enjoys a whole new status now. The image projected by Les Bleues chimed perfectly with what the public were looking for. People appreciate the way they play, but also the team's attitude and joie de vivre, as well as the values they promote.

Lots of former professionals have turned to beach soccer. Is it a discipline you have any experience of?
No, unfortunately I haven't had the chance. I have a little more time now, though. It's a discipline that's experiencing great success and getting media exposure, while attracting big crowds to the most beautiful beaches in the world. It's a sport that's accessible, cheap to play and almost free of restrictions. I also know that it's becoming more professional and that Brazil, who've won the World Cup several times, have serious rivals out there such as Portugal, France and Russia.

Similarly to beach soccer, futsal is looking to spread its development across every continent. What are your thoughts on this growing discipline?
Unlike beach soccer, I play futsal from time to time, especially with my children, who love it. It's a demanding and technical sport, based on quick passing and movement. It's no surprise that Brazil and Spain are both excellent in this discipline. For example, Spain's traditional style of play takes a lot of inspiration from futsal, as we saw in the last World Cup. For quite a few years now, France have favoured players who are physical and strong in the tackle. Things have changed with the advent of futsal, which is unanimously popular with youngsters. futsal halls are always full in winter and I see that everywhere. futsal should be integrated more into football schools because it complements football perfectly in terms of developing responsiveness: demonstrating the importance of positioning, speed and technique in football. futsal is an excellent way of starting out in football as it teaches youngsters the basics of the game right from the start, and it does so in any country in the world.

How has football changed since you first started your career?
Overall, football remains the same. It doesn't change much over time. However, it has got quicker and the players are perhaps now more complete. One of the major differences I've noticed concerns the physical aspect. In my day, especially in the early 1990s, the challenges were a lot rougher. Developments on the refereeing side have struck me too and they've coincided with the changes in how the game is played. Debates about whether or not to introduce video replays get aired every weekend. Football has taken on a whole new dimension with the arrival of huge amounts of capital, and there has been colossal investment.

The matches are attractive to watch, the play is committed, spectacular and focused on attack, and standards are rising across the board.
Dacourt on women's football

What are the biggest differences between the professional football world that everyone sees on television and the amateur leagues where you no doubt started out?
Everything happens quicker. The main difference is the approach to the game. When I was younger, football was a way to forget my troubles, to meet up with friends and play together for hours, almost like a family. There are far more constraints in the professional world. Obviously, the stakes aren't the same. Pressure is everywhere, especially at the big clubs where you're expected to get a result in every single game. Some players are nonetheless able to put the professional context out of their minds and play a simple and stylish kind of football with maximum results. I'm thinking above all of Lionel Messi, who looks like he's in a playground or his own back garden whenever he walks onto a football pitch. That's so impressive and it leaves me speechless. Still, whoever you're playing with, be it an international star or someone else, the joy of scoring a goal beats everything. It's the Holy Grail and that will never change.

Have you considered a role in grassroots development? How could you see yourself getting involved?
I'm currently enrolled at the Centre for the Law and Economics of Sport (CDES) in Limoges, where I'm taking a diploma to become a general manager of a sports club. It's a way of keeping myself in the milieu and getting involved in football development – not at grassroots level but higher up, by gaining the management skills needed for a club, league or federation. After that, I'll be directly or indirectly involved with youth football and training youngsters from the youngest ages. A lot of former players are now hoping to get involved in football. For example, Zinedine Zidane and Eric Carriere are in the same year as me.