Monday 05 February 2018, 16:36

The architects of success

  • FIFA looking to strengthen the role and appreciation of technical directors at member associations

  • Focus of the technical directors should not be on short-term success, but on the development process

  • Workshop in Doha saw FIFA experts set out course content for training technical experts

During his time at Barcelona, Pep Guardiola became a folk hero. He achieved greatness, both as a player and as a coach, enabling the club to hit the heights. And yet, he remained modest about his personal achievements, saying: "Johan Cruyff built the cathedral. Our job is to maintain and renovate it."

Hansruedi Hasler, former technical director of the Swiss Football Association, used this quotation from Guardiola to kick off the discussions at the FIFA Technical Experts’ Workshop in Doha, Qatar. The technical directors he was addressing, who had over 150 years of experience between them, all agreed. The comparison with architects is a good one, and while the role of the technical director is well defined, at the end of the day, they have to find the right balance and unite people from any number of vastly different backgrounds – if not to construct a cathedral, then at least a solid building.

Since 2009, it has been stipulated in the FIFA regulations that a country cannot benefit from FIFA development programmes, unless it has a technical director. This led to many member associations appointing technical directors, without ensuring that they had the right profile, or indeed, defining what their scope would be. "The overall working conditions are very tough," Hasler explained, "and there is a basic lack of understanding for the significance of development, and therefore, for the position of the technical director." Indeed, those given the task often tend to focus on prestigious infrastructure projects and the performance of the national team.

This is something that the governing body of world football is looking to counteract, by means of courses. "Since 2016, we have trained almost 180 technical directors," said Jurg Nepfer, FIFA’s Head of Technical Development Services. "Unfortunately, half of them have already been replaced, meaning that there is a lack of consistency and continuity."

Not that FIFA is discouraged. "This workshop is helping us to define the next round of courses for technical directors and for them to definitively take shape. Those taking part are all people with a great deal of experience, and we want to leverage that," said Hasler, while Nepfer added: "As well as the standard courses for all new technical directors, the training will be subdivided into two modules which concentrate on specific areas. The first module concentrates on the role of the technical director, the structure of the department, and employee and project management, while the second is about technical development, i.e. the definition of a national footballing philosophy, training coaches, and youth football at the elite level."

The aim is to develop tailored programmes for all regions based on a standard range, and to hone the profile of the technical director around the world and solidify the position. "In my opinion, a technical director, first and foremost, has to be a good communicator," said Eric Abrams, who works in Australia. "They need to be able to explain what has to be done and how. But the most important aspect is for them to set out exactly why – only then can changes be introduced and entrenched structures be made more flexible." Ulric Mathiot, technical director of the Seychelles, added: "I see my main task as getting a lot of people, who have no footballing background, to believe what I’m saying. So much of that involves making the content simple and easy to understand."

Doha saw an exchange of ideas and experiences among the various technical experts, and it was clear that they face a variety of different challenges. Some member associations are smaller than others and have fewer resources available to them. There, the technical director is often left to his or her own devices and has to take on a totally different role from what happens in a larger member association, where their counterparts have to fight more to gain influence and acceptance. Technical directors around the world, however, share a number of areas which they all have to deal with, and the workshop saw discussions on talent-spotting and biological differences stemming from children being born earlier or later in the year, as well as the effects of taking part in youth tournaments. Another important aspect was training coaches and the creation of a sustainable national footballing identity.

"Technical directors often join a national association from abroad, which makes it essential to involve the next generation of employees from the country, in the planning process," Abrams explained. "This is the only way of creating a legacy to drive football forward sustainably."

The pilot courses for technical directors defined by FIFA, in conjunction with their experts, will get underway this April. And Pep Guardiola – he of the iconic quotation – will be included. After all, everyone in the member associations and the confederations – be they architects, employees, or accountants – need to work together closely and utilise the available synergies to achieve the common goal: building the cathedral of long-term success, for all involved.