FIFA.com’s latest report on youth football development turns the spotlight on Peru, a country with a rich footballing culture and unbridled passion for the game, where clubs and national teams are doing all they can to recapture past glories.
Since qualifying for the FIFA World Cup™ three times, in 1970, 1978 and 1982, and triumphing at the 1975 Copa America, Peru have generally been a shadow of their former selves in major competitions. Despite the creditable third place secured by Sergio Markarian’s men at last year’s Copa, Peruvian football faces one of the most serious crises in its history.
Forced to act due to the La Blanquirroja’s erratic results and a domestic league in a state of decay, bogged down by large debts, bankrupt clubs, unpaid salaries and a mass strike, the Peruvian Football Association (FPF) decided to carry out a comprehensive overhaul of the national game, via an ambitious initiative centred on the development of youth football.
“The current poor results being achieved by Peruvian clubs and national teams on the international stage are not the by-product of a recent turn of events,” said Professor Oscar Hamada, Director of Football Development at the FPF, in a report summarising the main areas of strategic development.
“They’re caused by the apathy shown towards youth football in Peru during the 1980s and 90s, because we thought that we’d accomplished enough during the 1970s to remain competitive," he continued. "While other countries on our continent analysed their failings and made some effective changes, we Peruvians were happy to live in the past.”
In order to reacquaint the nation with success on the pitch, the ‘Challenge 2020’ project, implemented with the support of FIFA, has laid the foundations for the future of football in Peru.
The strategic approach involves a complete reorganisation of the sport at youth level, the extensive country-wide promotion of the upper echelons of the game and its ruling bodies, and the establishment of youth academies that will focus on developing players who could potentially become part of or strengthen the country’s national sides.
It was a constant record of failure that motivated the South American nation’s powers-that-be to act. Pinpointing three major inadequacies, namely the lack of organisation, the absence of a unified approach, and the weak impact of the sport outside the confines of Lima, their goal is to breathe new life into youth football.
“As a response to this evaluation, we launched our ‘Strategic Plan for the Strengthening of Junior Football 2009-2012’, the objective of which, taking into account our current situation, is sustainable and effective development,” explained Hamada.
Key elements of the project include the improvement of youth football, the promotion of tournaments and representative teams across the whole country and an increase in the number of clubs and licensed players, all of which have been implemented within a framework of standardised nationwide training and messages conveying values of good citizenship to youngsters.
A single national system for unearthing talent was brought in, enabling 12,000 young players to take part in 2010. It was against this background that the Federal Regional Cup, which involved 330 youth teams featuring players born between 1994 and 1996 and 124 teams of players born in 1993, originating from the country’s various different regions, as well as the Lima Federal Cup, in which a total of 24 clubs participated, were staged.
Detecting and developing
“During a study on technical skills at U-15 and U-17 level in the 2000s, we obtained some vital information about physical attributes outside of the capital,” said Hamada, keen to stress that sporting talent can exist and thrive away from the sprawling metropolis of Lima and its nine million residents.
“After carrying out tests in 16 of the 24 regions, we discovered that in five of them, the players’ average speed and height were greater than that recorded in Lima,” he added.
It was partly to detect and develop these hidden gems dotted around the country that nine centres of excellence were established with the help of FIFA’s Goal Programme, which provided 520,000 US dollars to finance the project. These training academies have already seen many young footballers come through the ranks, including ten who are currently on the books of professional clubs in Lima, and six who make up part of the U-15 national side.
“Each centre has a coach and physical trainer selected by the FPF, as well as a training pitch and excellent working conditions,” said Hamada. “The trainees sit regular medical and psychological tests as part of their overall development.”
Although the work is still in the process of bearing significant fruit, the Peruvians having actually failed to achieve their stated objective of qualifying for the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011, hopes remain high as regards making an appearance at the 2013 edition of the tournament, especially with the emergence of future stars such as Andy Polo.
At just 17 years of age, the young forward has recently begun to make a name for himself at Lima-based Universitario. Indeed, he has already been given the nickname El Nene *(The Kid), mirroring a certain Teofilo Cubillas, a symbol of *La Blanquirroja’s celebrated past. If Polo can one day emulate the living legend with whom he shares a moniker, a return to those glory days might not be that far away for Peru.