José Pavoni: No one can stop us from dreaming
After years in the sporting wilderness, Peru's long-suffering supporters will be hoping the country can shine again at the highest level when they host the FIFA U-17 World Championship this September. The man charged with preparing Peru's talented teenagers for the considerable challenge ahead is Argentinian José Pavoni. When FIFA.com caught up with the hard-working coach, he was happy to share his thoughts with us on this year's championship, the team's preparations and his hopes for the future.
After the Peruvian Football Federation (FPF) appointed the Argentine Carlos Picerni to coordinate the administration of the country's youth football in 2004, one of his first decisions was to put his compatriot Pavoni in charge of the U-17 side. Now, one year on, the coach is putting the final touches to the team's preparations for the South American U-17 Championship in Venezuela this April.
Señor Pavoni, now that your preparations are almost complete, what are your expectations for the team?
We have high hopes. Anytime you start a new undertaking, you do it in the hope that you'll achieve as much as possible. No one can stop us from dreaming. We've been working together for over a year now with a phased development plan, but our biggest challenge is still to come.
What shape were things in when you arrived?
There was an awful lot of work to do. During the first phase we assembled a large group of players, who we subsequently watched every weekend. Twelve months on, we've whittled that number down to 31.
That means you will have to reduce the number further before the tournament. Is that the hardest part of being a coach?
Undoubtedly, it's the most difficult part. Telling some of these guys that they haven't made the squad will be very upsetting, as they all have high hopes. We've come a long way together and we've formed bonds along the way. But in this profession, at moments like these, you can't afford to be sentimental.
How do you develop a youth side? After all, they are just teenagers...
Peruvian football has a tradition of attacking play with an emphasis on touch and ball control. The young players we work with have these qualities already, so we try to give some added dimension to their game. We work hard on developing their physique and try to make them more aggressive in their tackling. Most of the players have put on between 2 and 3kgs and also increased their muscle mass. That makes a big difference in a physical contest. Now we are making the players take on senior teams so that they get accustomed to that type of game.
And how do you work on the players' mental strength?
That's not easy. The guys are at a difficult age and easily susceptible to mood swings. One day they're euphoric, the next they're really down. It's also a tough age for them to assume responsibility. Psychology is important, as is dialogue. You have to be very sincere with them.
Are the senior team coaches in any way involved in your work?
No, not at all. Our work here is completely independent. Yes, we've spoken with Señor Autuori a couple of times, but it's each to his own. Nobody tells us how we should go about our work.
Although you have already qualified for the FIFA World Championship as hosts, you are taking part in the South American tournament in Venezuela. On the positive side, that could be a great opportunity to build team spirit and experience, but if results go against you, it could affect the players' confidence.
It's certainly true that it's going to be a very hard tournament. We've been drawn in the toughest group with Chile, Colombia, Uruguay and Argentina. We're not expecting miracles. We know we're capable of beating some sides and maybe drawing with others. We want to do as best we can against the continental big guns. What's important is that we'll have a very good idea where we stand by the end of it.
Does it bother you having to face Argentina?
I'm not going to lie to you. I'm Argentinian, I know the coaching staff there and, as such, I'd rather beat Chile or Brazil than I would my own country. But I live in Peru, I work in Peru and it's here I'm trying to succeed. That's football for you. If I had to take on my father's team tomorrow, I'd also want to win.
Will the pressure of playing at home work for or against you?
Here, the public don't make too much of a fuss. I don't think we need worry unduly about that. However, what does concern me is the possibility that the people or the press might pass the burden of Peru's past disappointments on to these young players. As we told people when we took charge, "we can change the future, but not the past".
Did the message sink in?
I don't think so - at least at first (laughs). Over time, however, people have begun taking these concepts on board. Now they are more open about it. We have good dialogue and slowly we're beginning to see the results on the pitch. It's a tremendous challenge, but a beautiful one.
What could the FIFA U-17 World Championship do for Peru?
It will show the country is capable of organizing top-class events, just as it did last year with the Copa América. Hopefully, it will also help the development of youth football in the country. The organizers and investors will be hoping for other benefits for Peru, which can only be positive.