In a sense, the summer of 2005 marks a turning point for Burundi. After 12 years of civil war, a president, Pierre Nkurunziza, has been elected by the parliament. Hopes are high of revitalising a country bled dry by war, and in its own modest way, FIFA is endeavouring to ensure that this renaissance extends to football. After the laying of the first stone of the new federation headquarters in April as part of the Goal project, world football's governing body sent an instructor, Peter Schnittger, to train the country's coaches.
When visiting Burundi in April 2005 to lay the first stone of the new Burundi Football Federation (FFB) headquarters, Joseph S. Blatter promised that development aid would not dry up after his visit. The aim was crystal-clear: to reconstruct as quickly as possible a football infrastructure paralysed at international level for over 10 years by civil war.
Some three months later, the promise made to federation president Lydia Nsekera was made good when FIFA instructor Schnittger travelled to Bujumbura for a 12-day mission within the framework of the Olympic Solidarity programme. This German technician is highly respected in Africa, where his coaching record stretches back over 35 years.
35 years of African experience
After arriving on the African continent in 1968, he had stints as coach of Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia and Senegal, interspersed with spells at the helm of Africa's leading club sides, such as Canon of Yaoundé. Now 64 and brimming with vitality, Schnittger was still training coaches in Morocco as recently as 2003. His expertise in this field is beyond dispute then, as is his vast knowledge of the African football scene.
"Quite simply, the entire country needs to be rebuilt after the civil war. Football here has every problem you care to mention: a lack of stability within the federation, financial problems which prevent members of staff from being paid and attending the attendance of training courses abroad which are vital to development, a lack of resources in terms of equipment and infrastructures. Add to that the fact that there is no national youth league and far too little promotion of football among the young, and the picture is far from brilliant," explains Schnittger.
However, it is precisely this daunting challenge that interests the technician, who far from contenting himself with cataloguing the problems is also putting forward solutions. In a nutshell, he is planning to "multiply the number of training grounds, increase the construction of competition pitches, preferably made from synthetic turf, construct a national training centre, create a structure within the National Technical Department to carry out the training of coaches, draw up coach training guidelines, establish the duration of the courses leading to the different qualifications, set the conditions for the holding of the examinations which recognise them and, lastly, arrange the official recognition of these National Football Coaching Diplomas."
Not surprisingly, Burundian administrators welcomed Schnittger with open arms for this training programme, and despite extremely modest working conditions, the one thing never in short supply was the enthusiasm of the 26 trainees selected.
While the FIFA instructor's role was first and foremost to share his wealth of experience concerning the training of coaches and team preparation, he also advised his local counterparts on the reorganisation and restructuring of Burundian football, which has set itself the mid-term goal of becoming more efficient and successful, both regionally and internationally.
Schnittger based his training programme on several cornerstones, but its key plank was individual guidance. "A coach needs to educate a player so that he becomes capable of thinking correctly in any situation and thereby finding the most effective solution in terms of tactics and technique, whether attacking or defending," explained the German technician to FIFA.com.
But the course also focused on improving endurance, speed, and muscle tone, in the shape of a range of simple measures designed to ensure that the physical side of things was not neglected. What is more, all of this was achieved with limited resources. "To improve overall muscle tone, I presented a Circuit-Training programme consisting of 10 workshops targeting the different groups of muscles. It's a simple application that requires no sophisticated equipment, just a partner. The programme was tailored to the Burundian context, where the lack of equipment is endemic," Schnittger summarises.
A veteran of the African scene, Schnittger is well aware that there is no magic formula. "The problems differ from one part of the continent to another. The North is more structured, for example, in terms of both administration and training, while the problems seen in Burundi can be found throughout sub-Saharan Africa."
While in Bujumbura, Schnittger was reunited with Dominique Niyonzima, the current coach of the national youth team and a former pupil of his at a course organised by the DFB (German Football Federation). The idea is for Niyonzima to play the role of "disseminator", passing on the methodology and philosophy of coach training. All of this activity will take place within a national technical department that is currently in throes of complete reconstruction.
Schnittger adjudges that an "in-depth analysis of the structures and existing problems is absolutely essential as it's necessary to define a football development and promotion programme that is tailored to the situation on the ground." He and FIFA as a whole are hopeful that Burundian football has been helped back on its feet. And if all goes well, the Burundian Sparrows could be winging their way towards a FIFA World CupTM before too long.