FIFA’s Grassroots project has long been one of the principal priorities of the Chilean Football Association (ANFP). And the recent crowd-pleasing success enjoyed by La Roja and the ardour generated by hosting the FIFA U-17 World Cup have boosted interest in football among future Chilean players and coaches to new levels.

It was against this backdrop of increased enthusiasm that 240 boys and girls aged between six and 12 from 14 different clubs were invited to a session run by 30 coaches on 30 October in the Parc La Araucana sporting complex in the south-east of Santiago, capping off a five-day training course organised under the auspices of FIFA’s Legacy Programme.

“The children and coaches who are here symbolise the future of Chilean football,” said FIFA Grassroots instructor Mauricio Marques, indicating the young participants with a smile.

While there is obviously a focus on basic technical skills, the project’s other key goals are to promote an interest in football and lay the foundations of a solid training programme for young players and coaches. “The most important thing at this age, though, is a passion for football,” he added.

Consequently, the practical activities on the agenda consisted of a series of skills and tactical circuits on a dozen mini-pitches, the aim of which was to improve the aptitudes and proficiency of the girls and boys in attendance.

Marques, who hails from Brazil, was keen to emphasise the excellent standard of the Chilean coaches, who will soon be ready to regularly organise and run these types of activities and turn them into an everyday occurrence right across Chile, thereby strengthening the Grassroots project.

“I’ve been surprised by their quality, but it does go a long way to explaining the current performances of the Chilean national team,” he noted. “We made a lot more progress than we expected. We met coaches who are also physical education teachers and players with impressive football knowledge.”

From streets to small pitches
Luis Ramirez, Technical Development Director at the ANFP, has worked in coaching all his professional life, first at Universidad Catolica, and then in his current post, which he has held for several years. “In the past, players learned their trade in the street, in smaller spaces, like those used at the festival,” he said while observing the exercises from the sidelines.

Street football was a tradition that endured for generations in Chile before falling out of fashion. “Of course children still play the game, but it’s all very disjointed. They play one day but not the next. They learn from different people, and they skip key stages. We need to ensure that this process is systematised,” explained Ramirez, whose responsibilities include organising over 150 men’s and women’s matches across the country every week.

The Grassroots courses could serve as a way to regulate the transition from amateur level to junior level and then to professional level. “Making football available to all is the main problem. Thanks to the Grassroots project, children, coaches and parents know what’s expected of them from the outset,” continued Ramirez.

A number of senior technical staff members from clubs with young players taking part in the festival were also present in Santiago. The majority of them were quick to agree with the idea of strengthening grassroots football.

“FIFA has put in a huge effort to come up with new methodologies, and Chilean football needs to modernise via these types of activities,” said Carlos Pedemonte, who oversees youth development at Colo-Colo.

Chile 2015 inspiration
The momentum generated by the ongoing U-17 World Cup and by activities related to the FIFA Legacy Programme has only served to bolster the objectives of the Chilean football community. “There’s still a lot of work to be done in terms of expansion,” said Ramirez. “We need to open more youth academies, make sure things are done right from the youngest age categories upwards, and develop women’s football.”

And if these plans were to become a reality, where would Chilean football be in ten years? “We should achieve good results in the future if we succeed in making football available to all young people,” concluded the ANFP representative.

The final day of the Grassroots Festival provided a memorable image in the form of a group photograph of the young participants and their coaches beaming together, while their families waited to hear their children recount their experiences.

Among them could well have been the next Alexis Sanchez, Arturo Vidal or Claudio Bravo, or rather the next Marcelo Allende, Gabriel Mazuela or Yerko Leiva, whose fighting spirit and intensity at the U-17 World Cup have persuaded legions of new young fans to join the Chilean football revolution.