Friday 21 July 2017, 10:57

Peru planning unprecedented growth

  • Peruvian Football Federation's Minors Plan started in March 2016

  • 1,000 players are training in 20 regional development centres in Peru

  • Talented youngster Piero Ferreyra Lopez now realising his footballing dream

Back in August 2016, in pursuing his dream of becoming a footballer, Piero Ferreyra Lopez took a three-day boat trip up the Amazon from his village, Caballococha, deep in the Peruvian jungle. Travelling with 13 other young boys and an official from his village, he disembarked in Iquitos, a thousand kilometres away from Lima. Nearly one year on, Piero is playing for Sporting Cristal and Peru’s U-15 national team, something unthinkable prior to the moment he took that journey.

His potential would have gone to waste, had it not been for the Minors Plan that the Peruvian Football Federation (FPF) rolled out in March 2016. An ambitious project, it has the financial backing of FIFA, through its Forward development programme.

“It’s about giving youngsters who never had an opportunity a fair crack of the whip,” Daniel Ahmed, the head of the Minors Development Unit told Under the supervision of FPF President Edwin Oviedo and Director of Football Juan Carlos Oblitas, the Argentinian coach is aiming to revolutionise Peruvian grassroots football through a project that he says has both a social and competitive aspect to it.

Up until 2016, only six professional clubs in the country’s first and second divisions operated youth teams for players aged between 12 and 18, all of them based in Lima. In the rest of the country, meanwhile, there was no professional structure in place for training youngsters of those ages.

A five-point project Thanks to the nationwide plan, teams from other regions around the country have created their own youth set-ups, with 15 now running U-15 and U-17 sides. Next year will see U-13 teams being added, with the objective being to have at least 32 clubs competing against each other at youth level.

“The project we’re putting forward has five points to it: the regions, the development of minors at professional clubs, the educating of instructors, personal development and national youth teams,” said Ahmed, voicing his enthusiasm. The ultimate aim is for Peru to have 48 professional clubs – a status only enjoyed by its first division sides at the moment – offering an unbroken career path to their youngsters.

Development centres were created in 20 regions in 2016, with further centres being set up in the country’s remaining five regions this year, each with a U-14 and U-16 coach and an administrator. Players from all corners of each region were scouted, with the best of them being selected for the development centres before eventually taking part in the inaugural U-14 and U-16 national regional team championships.

With the guidance and support of the FPF, Peru’s first division clubs scouted boys and brought them into their teams, in accordance with the FIFA Club Licensing system, which requires professional clubs to have youth development programmes in place. Piero, the boy who took the boat trip up the Amazon, is just one of the youngsters to have gone through the process.

Since March 2017, he and his fellow hopefuls have been taking part in Peru’s inaugural youth championship for the first division’s professional clubs: the U-15 and U-17 Torneos Centenario, both of which are funded by the FPF.

“We’re helping clubs because even if they want to implement a plan like this, it’s very difficult for them to do so, unless you give them a hand,” said Ahmed. “We’ve got recreational football, but we don’t have professional teams who take on the job of building a professional nationwide structure for the game.”

The Minors Plan – facts and figures:

  • Some 15,000 players were scouted in 2016, with 1,000 of them being selected for the development centres.

  • More than 700 boys at U-14 and U-16 level played in the national regional team championship in 2016.

  • A total of 165 coaches have been trained for the development centres.

  • More than 240 talent scouts now operate in all regions across Peru.

  • 170 players from the centres play for 15 professional clubs in the 2017 Torneo Centenario.

  • Matches from the competition are broadcast every Saturday on the free-to-air Latina channel.

The FPF has also created an annual programme designed to provide youngsters with a broad academic education and encourage them to lead healthy lives. “We teach them everything to do with their emotional development,” added Ahmed. “It’s not just about them playing football.”

Supported by private enterprise, the programme is currently being trialled and applies only to national youth teams and to one region at the moment, though the intention is for it to be rolled out in a second region by the end of the year.

“It’ll take us between six and eight years to reach everyone,” continued Ahmed. “Football has an incredible social power, and an awful lot of lives have been saved by steering people away from dangerous lifestyles and into sport. It reflects the nation’s health.”

The overall project should provide Peru’s representative teams with talent sourced from right across the nation. Put together outside the plan, the 21-man U-17 squad that played at this year’s South American Championships in the age group featured no fewer than 20 players from Lima. In contrast, 11 of the 25 players that make up the U-15 side hail from the country’s interior, among them Piero.

A legend of Peruvian football, Oblitas is excited at what the future holds: “We’ve started building what hasn’t been built in 30 years. Short-term thinking and improvisation are now a thing of the past.”