Marcelo Jara raises his hand and awaits his turn. At that moment, one of the working groups is analysing – from a tactical aspect – video footage of Nigeria’s recent comprehensive victory over Chile, and Jara is keen to bring the question of psychology into the discussion. In the afternoon session, all of these theoretical concepts will transform into a reality on the pitch in the practical part of the training course, although the productive debate never stops.
Jara is one of seven Chilean coaches taking part in FIFA’s regional seminar for youth coaches in Vina del Mar. The goal of the course, developed as part of FIFA’s legacy programme, is to make the most of the fact that the FIFA U-17 World Cup is currently ongoing in Chile, and to leave a legacy in the host country as well as in the wider region.
Indeed, among the group of 24 participants there are youth coaches from all over South America. Some names are more well-known than others: Richard Paez, for example, has previously taken charge of Venezuelan national youth teams as well as the Venezuelan senior side, while Fabian Coito has led the Uruguayan teams out at the FIFA U-17 World Cup and the U-20 equivalent. Columbia’s Carlos Restrepo and Peru’s Juan Jose Ore have also coached their respective national sides at youth-level World Cups.
“You can go and watch other teams’ training sessions or ask permission to find out how other clubs operate, but actually being at an U-17 World Cup match and then analysing it afterwards with colleagues of this calibre is very rewarding,” Jara told FIFA.com. “We don’t all think alike or prioritise the same aspects of the game, but that’s what makes the course interesting.”
Jara, 43, spent 16 years as a professional footballer. Since 2010, he has worked as a youth coach for Universidad de Chile, the club with which he came through the ranks, and is now at the helm of the Santiago outfit’s U-17 team. In fact, five of his players are currently competing for compatriot Miguel Ponce’s side at the U-17 World Cup, namely Gabriel Mazuela, Yerko Leiva, Ignacio Azua, Matias Pinto and Camilo Moya.
“I can’t stop watching them with the eyes of a coach, thinking about how or where they could be performing better,” admitted Jara. “I think they’ve lived up to expectations, though. I’m proud to see them taking part in the tournament, but we mustn’t forget they’re part of a larger process.”
Selecting a style
The fact that Jara is able to contextualise his players’ participation is no coincidence. As instructors Jorge Diaz-Cidoncha, FIFA Grassroots Coordinator, and Daniel Banales, CONMEBOL Technical Development Director, point out practically in unison, “One of the objectives of the seminar is to give coaches the theoretical and practical tools to create and maintain a football training framework. This will provide each association with the opportunity to develop and adhere to a specific style of play.”
As far as Jara is concerned, this is one of the greatest challenges facing youth football in Chile. “We have to ask ourselves, how do we actually want to play? You look at Nigeria here – they have a distinct style, constantly attacking, regardless of the consequences. Croatia also have their own style, with an emphasis on the passing game. Chile are still searching for a football identity, but to find that, you need time, and this team has not had that luxury.”
When Jorge Sampaoli’s senior Chilean side comes up in conversation, another thorny subject rears its head. While in countries like Argentina, Brazil or Uruguay it would be unthinkable for a foreigner to take charge of the national XI, La Roja have not been coached by a Chilean native since Juvenal Olmos in 2005. Will the time come when the situation is the same as in the aforementioned major football nations in South America?
“I think it’s unlikely in the short term, because we’re going through a highly successful phase,” said Jara. “But that does not mean that there aren’t Chileans out there who could coach the national team. There are several who are on the right path to earning themselves a chance. Those coaches need to constantly educate themselves and be ready when the moment comes.”
Jara views his participation in the course as a further stage in his learning process. An admirer of Pep Guardiola “for the way he adapts his teams’ shape to suit his football philosophy”, he admits that he has been surprised by the amount of planning that has gone into the course and also by the communication skills demonstrated by his fellow participants.
“Sometimes it’s not enough to include tactical concepts or shower you with information. What is the point of that if you don't even know how to get across to your players what you want? That is a great lesson, one which will help me to better prepare for the future,” he concluded confidently.