Tuesday 22 November 2022, 04:00

Five stars for FIFA Forward in France

  • FIFA Forward is helping the FFF develop football

  • This includes a focus on "new practices" such as five-a-side

  • A FIFA delegation visited a new pitch near Nantes

FIFA Forward is one of the most ambitious development programmes in the world of sport and part of The Vision 2020-2023, the action plan laid out by FIFA President Gianni Infantino which identified 11 key goals in the mission to make football truly global.

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, the blueprint involves every member association from all six confederations – and, despite their football prowess, world champions France are no exception. In France, development efforts are currently focused on "new practices", with FIFA providing USD 2m to the French Football Federation (FFF), which has invested USD 3.7m in a vast programme to construct new playing surfaces for futsal, beach soccer and five-a-side. A FIFA delegation recently paid a visit to Sainte-Luce, a small town in the suburbs of Nantes, where the Stade Phillippe Porcher now boasts new dressing rooms as well as an artificial pitch and a five-a-side pitch. "It was important for us to have a five-a-side pitch because every club in the region has them," explained the president of Union Sainte-Luce, Alain Cauet.

A thriving discipline

According to Cauet, who has helmed the club since 2007, this type of playing surface helps to retain club members and attract new ones. "Youngsters and older people prefer this type of pitch to grass and mud," he says. "When you play football, it's frustrating when games or training sessions have to be cancelled at the weekend due to the weather," adds Magali Cousin, the local official in charge of sport who has helped develop the project. "This [pitch] allows the club to offer a new alternative. You can train with fewer players and it's a very active discipline played at a very quick pace." Playing on a smaller pitch likewise makes it possible to shake things up and focus on different skills. "It develops your passing ability," says Cauet. "It also helps you to improve when not in possession, by better positioning yourself in relation to the ball carrier. It makes for a quicker playing style."

Local tradition

That approach to the game echoes the legendary "jeu à la Nantaise" perfected by neighbouring club FC Nantes at the highest level, a style of play based on mobility and intelligent team work that the local powerhouse turned into a football creed. Indeed, it was on a small, walled pitch – nicknamed "the pit" – that Les Canaris (the Canaries) were originally put through their paces. "The club's coaches used this pitch to develop that one-touch passing style," says Cauet. That may explain why the whole region has invested massively in five-a-side football infrastructure. "Our goal is to develop football across Loire-Atlantique," explains the FFF district president for the region, Alain Martin. "We realised that our associations and clubs were losing more and more youngsters aged 18 to 22. They were leaving to play at privately owned facilities with their friends.

"As soon as we learned that five-a-side pitches were being built thanks to FIFA's financial backing, we wanted to take advantage," he adds. "Without FIFA's subsidies, the French Federation wouldn't have been able to help us and we wouldn't have been able to construct these facilities." The results are there for all to see, with new pitches luring large numbers of people – and keeping them coming back for more. "Five-a-side football interests a wide variety of people," says the FFF's district administrative director for Loire-Atlantique, Sebastien Duret. "We've focused especially on development and improvement of the women's game, allowing young girls who are starting to play football to familiarise themselves with the ball."

Development and training

"There are also younger boys who like the intensity of five-a-side football, the way the ball is always in play," notes Duret. "And there is a more senior contingent that likes to play for fun and can enjoy themselves even with few players." According to Philippe Le Yondre, Amateur Football League treasurer and district president for Ille-et-Vilaine, this type of facility is perfect for training youngsters. "For coaches in charge of newcomers, this is a perfect environment because it's a closed space," he says. "You can coach children who are discovering football in complete safety and you can work on introducing them to the game, mobility and all the rest." Alongside the various trophies at Union Sainte-Luce is a poster signed by French international and club graduate Clara Mateo. It stands as another shining example of how, in Loire-Atlantique and elsewhere, infrastructure and development at all levels can help small streams eventually become great rivers.