Tuesday 26 April 2022, 09:40

Talent Development Scheme takes another step forward

  • TDS is designed to support Member Associations (MAs) to increase the competitiveness of their national teams

  • MAs to start implementation from 2023

  • MA’s can expect expertise, training & education and exchange of knowledge to develop or enhance their long term strategic plan for talent development

One of the biggest challenges facing FIFA is to reverse the growing disparity in standards between regions and ensure that more national teams are capable of competing for major titles. Yet, at youth level the story is very different and more balanced which suggests that, some parts of the world, talented young players are slipping through the net. "We have seen in recent years that the representation of countries at the top is getting less and less. There are fewer countries reaching that level, [they’re] always coming from the same regions, and we believe there is a lot of potential to unlock in many other countries,” said Patricia Gonzalez, FIFA Group Leader for Talent Development.

FIFA has responded by introducing a ground-breaking Talent Development Scheme (TDS), which aims to support and help MAs fulfil their potential by ensuring that every talented player gets a chance to be detected and developed. It is hoped that this will help raise the standards of national team football around the world, with the ultimate aim of having 50 national teams that are capable of competing at the highest level – part of FIFA’s Vision 2020-23. "TDS is trying to support the member associations to increase their competitive level of their national teams in order for us to achieve a greater competitive balance worldwide which is one of our strategic objectives as an organisation," said Patricia Gonzalez. The first stage of the project was the Global Ecosystem Analysis, which studied talent development in 205 of the 211 MAs. This has already provided a huge amount of data and information as well as suggestions for improvement – something which was welcomed by many MAs.

Specialists say it is difficult to generalise about why MAs fail to make the most of their potential. In Asia, for example, one of the issues is simply geography. "Some countries that we’ve had experiences with have difficulty accessing the players and bringing the players together," said Kelly Cross, a high-performance specialist based in Australia. “That is a common trend with some of the countries across Asia.” Other problems include the lack of a clear pathway to professionalism, not enough competitive youth team matches and a shortage of properly qualified coaches. Steve McClaren, a high-performance specialist and former coach of England, FC Twente and VFL Wolfsburg among others, said that MAs not only needed a clear strategy but also had to drive home the message every day. “Many of the successful MAs have a written philosophy - the way that they work, the way that they play, the way that they are structured - and they’re consistent in that,” he said.

Steve McClaren during the FIFA Talent Development Scheme Workshop at Sportschule Wedau

One thing is certain: having a large talent base does not guarantee success, nor is a small population an impediment to success . “Everybody thinks that if you have a broad base, automatically, you’ll also have a lot of players that become very good,” said FIFA Technical Director Steven Martens. “(But) It’s important to have a pathway. “Talent identification leads to spotting these talents that, in the end, potentially need more training, more professional guidance and more quality programmes, and then, yes, you might have a chance to get more talents through and be more competitive. Whether it’s by providing more leagues or providing more specific training, there are various ways to reach your goal, but one thing is for sure: without having a dedicated pathway, it’s very difficult for people to know how to go from Step A to Step B and from Step B to Step C.”

FIFA Chief of Global Football Development Arsène Wenger is seen during the FIFA Talent Development Scheme Workshop at Sportschule Wedau

FIFA's Chief of Global Football Development Arsene Wenger recalled his own experience as he remembered that, in many countries, young players do not receive the coaching they need to make the most of their talent.

"The first time I met a coach in my life, I was 19 and I imagine in that in some regions of the world you have many people in a similar situation," he said during at a TDS workshop held at the Sportschule Wedau in Duisburg, Germany, in March. "There are probably many people who do not have a chance to play competitive football and to be influenced by coaches." Officially launched in February, the TDS will provide tailor-made assistance to MAs, helping them identify and coach talented players and providing them with a comprehensive development football structure to support the transition to high performance football.

Ulf Schott speaking at FIFA Technical Development Scheme workshop in Duisburg

“TDS is a programme that focuses upon knowledge as a driver for MAs to reach their full protentional on the international stage. Through expertise, training and education and knowledge exchange, the MAs will have the opportunity to develop a long-term plan to best support its their elite youth development structures across the country through bespoke initiatives and programmes,” said Ulf Schott, Head of High Performance Programmes at FIFA. FIFA has enlisted a diverse team of more than 50 specialists, from countries as diverse as Bhutan, Honduras, Burkina Faso, Portugal, Germany and Georgia, to help MAs set their long-term strategic plans for elite youth development. Meanwhile, the FIFA Training Centre will provide a central role, offering MAs training courses and educational material specific to elite youth development. It will also share examples of good practice and create a network of experts for MAs to call upon.

To participate in the TDS and receive funding, MA's must send an application and FIFA’s specialists will decide whether they are ready, willing and able to take part. Those who are accepted will begin to receive assistance from 2023. “MAs are requested to outline their strategic priorities specific to elite youth development, linked to the outcomes of the Global Ecosystem Analysis, outline which stakeholders are key to the strategic priorities of the MA, and outline the way in which the project will be managed,” said Patricia Gonzalez. “All of this comes with an underpinning signature of commitment from the MA’s president, General secretary, and Technical Director.” The MAs who qualify for support from the TDS will be in the drivers of their respective talent development programmes, and with the support and knowledge of FIFA’s experts in the background, will have the opportunity to create a bright and sustainable future for their footballing talent.