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.
Playmaker Camille Abily is one of the most experienced members of the French women’s national team. Now in her second spell with all-conquering Lyon, Abily’s previous clubs include Montpellier, Los Angeles Sol, FC Gold Pride and Paris Saint-Germain.
A France international since 2001, Abily has been central to Les Bleues’ progress in recent years, culminating in fourth-place finishes in both the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011™ and the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament 2012. With all her experience, the Brittany-born midfielder is perhaps one of the best-placed individuals to talk about football development – particularly in relation to the women’s game.
FIFA.com: How did your career as a footballer begin? How were you first discovered?
Camille Abily: When I was very young, I played a lot of football with boys. I’ve been passionate about football since I was little, and I’m from a football-mad family. I was spotted very early on, when I was asked to play for the Brittany U-13 side. I began my professional career with Stade Briochin, in Saint Brieuc, in the 2000/01 season.
You finished fourth with France at Germany 2011. Looking back, what is your overriding feeling: disappointment at failing to make the top three, or satisfaction at a strong showing?
I have mixed feelings. Yes, we’re proud to have reached the last four of the competition, but we’re also a bit disappointed that we missed out on a podium place. That said, we had a very good tournament and played in some magnificent locations in Germany. It was a very enriching experience.
I wanted to experience playing abroad, and to test myself against the best. I fitted in perfectly, and I was really impressed by how well the club looked after me.
With the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011 and the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament 2012 now behind us, how do you feel about the current state of women’s football?
Women’s football has made a great deal of progress in recent years. There is more and more media interest. The federation’s HQ receives all kinds of requests. TV channels are now only too happy to broadcast women’s football matches. And the fans even follow us to our away games, which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. I’m lucky enough to have the chance to make a living from my passion. But we’re not all in the same position. Those of us who play for Lyon, Montpellier and PSG, on federal contracts or as club employees, can make a modest living from football. Monthly salaries range from €1,500 to €5,000. But the other clubs don’t have the same advantages. And we’re still a very long way from matching the salaries of our male counterparts.
You played for Los Angeles Sol and FC Gold Pride in the United States. What made you decide to go there, and what did you learn from the experience?
I wanted to experience playing abroad, and to test myself against the best. I fitted in perfectly, and I was really impressed by how well the club looked after me. The staff and my team-mates were very supportive from the moment I arrived. I spoke very little English, which made things a bit difficult at the start. On the pitch, I found that the demands were higher than in France. In the USA, where women’s 'soccer' is inspired by a national team that has twice won the World Cup, matches are more intense and played at a higher tempo. The physical attributes required and the pace of the game are also different. Women’s football over there is much more athletic. For example: university sides can play on Friday, train on Saturday and then play again on Sunday. In France, however, there’s one match per week – two at most for clubs in European competition.
What are your thoughts on FIFA’s football development work?
FIFA’s efforts for the benefit of football, in all its forms, are essential. The organisation of competitions in all age categories – and the growing media interest in our sport – plays an important role in increasing the number of registered players in all countries where FIFA is present.
Have you considered a role in grassroots development? How could you see yourself getting involved?
I still have a few more years ahead of me [as a player] before I start planning for the future. However, I think that whatever I do next will be closely linked to women’s football – from grassroots to the highest level.
Futsal and beach soccer both benefit from FIFA’s development efforts, and both sports are growing in popularity. Are you a fan?
I used to play a lot of beach soccer when I was younger, but not so much now. I always have a kick-around when I’m on the beach, though. It’s an up-and-coming sport, which is great news for everyone who enjoys football. Futsal is another form of football that I particularly enjoy. It’s all about speed, small spaces and technique, which makes it a real pleasure to play. When it snows in Lyon, we play futsal. It’s a sport that allows certain nations, particularly those from Asia and Oceania, to gain exposure at international level.
Do you also follow men's football?
Of course – I regularly watch men’s football matches. I’d even say it’s an obligation! My heroes are Zinedine Zidane and Youri Djorkaeff, two great former France internationals. I’m also really impressed by Spain at the moment. They have players like Xavi and Andres Iniesta, who are brilliant on the ball. There’s a natural difference between men and women in terms of physical fitness and athletic performance. But we’re increasingly exploiting our technical qualities, and women’s football has improved enormously in that respect. We’re closing the gap.
What are the main differences between the professional football world that everyone sees on television and the amateur leagues where you started out?
It essentially comes down to pressure and, in the men’s game, the amount of money at stake. Women’s football is still protected in that respect. In general, whether I’m playing with friends on a Sunday or taking part in a professional competition, the pleasure is the same. Nevertheless, winning titles is what drives us to play in the big national and international competitions.
What are your thoughts on the development of refereeing?
There are frequent discussions about refereeing. I’m in favour of implementing video technology, but only if it’s done progressively. We mustn’t forget, however, that football is faster than before, and that mistakes are part of the game. I observed a training course for French referees at Clairefontaine [France’s national football academy] a while back, and I was amazed by the high standards, precision and professionalism expected of them.
What advice would you give young girls hoping to play at the highest level and enjoy a similar career to yours?
I’d advise them to work hard, first and foremost! Despite any difficulties I’ve had, I’ve never given up. I’ve stayed true to my values and principles. That, I think, has been the key to my success.