Monday 05 September 2022, 14:00

FIFA’s Talent Development Scheme takes centre stage in Costa Rica

  • Four-day knowledge exchange workshop in San Jose featured Concacaf and eight member associations

  • Arsene Wenger, Jill Ellis and other football legends in attendance

  • Initiative was part of FIFA’s groundbreaking technical programme

FIFA has completed its inaugural Talent Development Scheme knowledge exchange workshop in San Jose, Costa Rica as part of the mission to restore competitive balance in football across different regions of the world.

Eight member associations from the Concacaf region – those of Canada, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico and Panama – attended the four-day event, which provided a deep insight into the key developmental areas outlined in FIFA Chief of Global Football Development Arsene Wenger’s vision.

Among other subjects, the workshop covered elite player pathways, the creation of a national playing philosophy, the importance of talent identification structures and FIFA’s innovative approach to performance analysis.

Staged on the sidelines of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup™, which was won by Spain, the workshop also showcased FIFA’s technical cooperation with Concacaf.

“We have 41 different countries and 41 different realities,” said Concacaf’s Head of Professional Football, Jonathan Martinez. “Workshops like this allow us to share the best ideas and the different needs of each member association. There are a lot of things that are developed at FIFA level and confederation level, and we can take little nuggets from each of those programmes, tailor them and implement them at each of our member associations.”

A number of high-profile names from the world game attended the workshop, including Costa Rica legends Paulo Wanchope and Shirley Cruz, as well as two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup™-winning coach Jill Ellis.

Legends provide input

Wanchope, now an ambassador for player development in Costa Rica, said: “We need more tools in Costa Rica to support high performance. The talent is here, but our players do not have the opportunities that players may have in Europe, for example. It’s crucial that we share knowledge and grow together so the whole Concacaf region can become stronger.”

“We now know the value of talent identification and the benefits of developing our own national philosophy. If we can make the pathway to the elite game smoother for the players that come through our system, it will help us to have a stronger national team at all levels and close the gap on bigger and more successful nations,” he added.

In the introduction to the event, Ged Roddy, a FIFA High Performance specialist who was leading the workshop alongside Diogo Matos, stressed the importance of “engaging in the spirit of openness”.

“Every one of the 211 countries who began their journey to the FIFA World Cup 2022 was unique,” said Roddy.

“In 2022, only 32 of those 211 nations could qualify, but this will become 48 teams in 2026, so this will open up more opportunities for new nations to reach the finals. It’s encouraging that six of the 32 teams who qualified for Qatar are nations with less than five million people, but it’s not a coincidence that these teams made it there.”

“When you further analyse the data and speak to the member associations, it becomes clear that the teams who have qualified for the finals have a vision,” continued Roddy. “They have an identity and strong people working in talent identification. They also have good coaches to develop their players and a clear pathway through the elite game. They make sure the best players play against the best and never lose sight of where the game is moving.”

Former Costa Rica international Shirley Cruz – who left her homeland to play in France, winning two UEFA Women’s Champions League titles and numerous league crowns with Lyon before joining Paris Saint-Germain – echoed Roddy’s sentiments.

“In Costa Rica, we have the talent but we do not have the knowledge, the expertise or the structure,” said Cruz, who earned 92 caps for Las Ticas. “When I moved to France, I was introduced to a great coaching environment that challenged me every day and made me a much better player. We need to make these opportunities available to all our talent in Costa Rica and not just to the few people who travel to Europe.”

As part of the workshop, the participants attended the semi-finals, third-place play-off and final of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. It was an experience that Dave Nutt, Manager of Development – Operations at Canada Soccer, will never forget.

“Both the matches we saw at the U-20 Women’s World Cup and the discussions we had at the workshop were a fantastic experience,” said Nutt. “Geographically, we are far away from our colleagues in Concacaf, so this is a great way to learn, connect and share our knowledge and love for the game. We exchanged knowledge with the other participants about all the projects and strategies they have tried in the game and we can definitely learn from all their ideas – hopefully they can learn from us too.”

Additional workshops planned

Lucia Mijares, the Director of Development at the Mexican Football Association, gave a presentation on the elite player pathways in Mexican men’s and women’s football and commented:

“Hearing about all the projects taking place in the different countries around us is a great way to see how we can improve our national teams. We all have different-sized countries and different cultures, but great ideas can be adapted to make them work.”

Additional workshops on FIFA’s Technical Development Scheme, which will feature the participation of other member associations across different regions, are planned in the near future.