Tuesday 17 April 2018, 08:32

A new home for North Macedonia's youngsters

  • Football Federation of North Macedonia recently opened new youth team accommodation

  • Marco van Basten helped inaugurate the new facilities

  • FIFA Forward Programme funds utilised in development

"The development of young players is what sustains football."

As commonplace as that phrase may be by now, there is a lot of truth in it as the foundations for a successful career are often laid at an early age. To that end, the Football Federation of North Macedonia (FFM) is now able to offer its young players new opportunities and is eager to make the most of the momentum gained by recent positive developments.

Italy's failure to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup™ shaped headlines across the globe, but the significant contribution North Macedonia played in that is less well known.

Last October coach Igor Angelovski's charges held Italy to a 1-1 draw in Turin in Russia 2018 qualifying. The reverse fixture a year earlier had almost proved disastrous for the four-time world champions, who needed a stoppage-time winner to secure the narrowest of 3-2 wins.

North Macedonia profile

  • Biggest win: 11-1 against Liechtenstein

  • Overall record: 220 games, 61 wins, 57 draws, 102 losses

  • Most-capped player: Goce Sedloski (100 appearances)

  • All-time top scorer: Goran Pandev (31 goals)

The FFM is aiming to build on that and, with the support of the FIFA Forward Programme, is investing in "bricks", as general secretary Filip Popovski put it in an interview with FIFA.com. "The biggest challenge was to finally complete our youth academy, which meant building accommodation. Until now our youngsters have been staying in various hotels in and around Skopje and had to be transported to school, to training and back every day. That wasn't easy, but it's a thing of the past now."

At the 'House of Football' in the Petar Miloshevski Training Centre in the North Macedonian capital, youngsters can now focus all their attention on their education. Thirty-five bedrooms, two classrooms, a kitchen and dining room were constructed in the west wing of the administrative building. The total cost of the project was approximately $990,000 USD, with $750,000 USD of that provided by world football's governing body via the FIFA Forward Programme.

That allowed for a home to be built for their talented youngsters. "Our aim now is to create an annual development plan that includes working on technique and principles of the game as well as everything to do with football, such as nutrition, rehabilitation and health. All of that can now be done under one roof, which is obviously fantastic."

Petar Miloshevski Training Centre profile

  • ​Opened in 2013

  • Renamed as the Petar Milosevski Training Centre in honour of the country's late former national team goalkeeper

  • Training complex with numerous pitches

  • Stadium with a capacity of 2,500, primarily used for international games at youth level

The youngsters themselves are equally taken with the new facilities and are eagerly looking forward to the months and years ahead: "We believe these wonderful conditions will help our development. Everything looks amazing and school is a lot closer than it used to be."

Its opening in mid-February was attended by FIFA Chief Officer for Technical Development Marco van Basten, and the former world-class striker hailed the complex as an outstanding example to follow.

Further reactions "The opening of this complex gives young players an appropriate place to help them concentrate on football 24 hours a day. Everything is possible here, from theory to training, sports and free time. It's important to us that the training facilities are here on the FFM grounds. This will all have a big influence on the development of North Macedonian football because one day these young players will be the ones wearing our national team shirt." Zoran Stratev, FFM technical director

"Form now on the younger generation will have unbelievably good opportunities to develop in the right way in every area. Simply put, the conditions are excellent and we'll all benefit from them in the future." Nedzat Shabani, U-14 coach

Eye-catching success for U-21s Although North Macedonia's senior national team are yet to qualify for a major tournament in their 25-year history, the future nevertheless holds plenty of promise. The U-21s became the country's first ever representatives at a major competition when they reached the UEFA European Championship in Poland last summer, knocking out a France team containing Corentin Tolisso, Aymeric Laporte, Adrien Rabiot, Ousmane Dembele and Thomas Lemar during qualifying.

"I believe in the quality of our players because they've already shown that they can compete with much bigger nations," Angelovski told FIFA.com recently. With the foundations now laid and expectations rising, it seems North Macedonia are set to write a new chapter in their footballing history.