With five FIFA World Cup™ appearances to its name and a sixth to come at Qatar 2022, a thriving domestic scene and a clutch of clubs regarded as continental heavyweights, and a solid reputation for producing dependable defenders, creative midfielders, and stylish forwards, it is no exaggeration to say that Morocco is a hotbed of talent.
It was in this football-loving country that FIFA held a June workshop devoted to the Talent Development Scheme (TDS), which was launched in February 2020 by Arsene Wenger, FIFA Chief of Global Development. More than 50 development specialists and regional technical advisers attended the Mohammed VI Football Academy to discuss talent development strategies, share best practices, and prepare the ground for the rest of FIFA’s member associations to support the scheme.
The Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) is devoting all its energy to these goals, as its president, Fouzi Lekjaa, made clear in his opening speech at the seminar: “The development of football in Morocco is founded on a triangular approach that should form the basis of the development of any system: facilities, talent, and qualified personnel. Along with my colleagues at the FRMF, I am convinced that those three fundamentals have to be in place for the process to develop as it should.”
The FRMF is delivering on its promises, focusing first of all on facilities both nationally and locally. A high point in its development plans came with the 2019 opening of the Mohammed VI Football Academy, which covers 30 hectares and boasts the latest facilities and equipment – all of it compliant with FIFA standards. The jewel in the crown of Moroccan football is one of the biggest and highest-achieving sports academies in the world.
In the meantime, the Moroccan authorities have also been developing local facilities, as Lekjaa revealed: “We have a team overseeing development across the country’s 12 regions, starting with talent detection, with young players attending club academies. That’s why we’ve made such a big effort to make sure clubs have their academies. The regional academies are the same as the national academy, just smaller. The best players from the regions go to the center of excellence, which has coaching and medical staff who work with young players spotted in grassroots football and take them up to the next level. That’s the way our development cycle is designed. It starts with talent detection at the grassroots level, with that talent then channeling into the clubs, the regional academy and on to the national center of excellence.”
In conjunction with the development of facilities and as part of the talent detection process, the FRMF is also in schools, trying to close the net as tight as it can and make sure that no potentially gifted individuals slip through it. “We’ve embarked on a sports studies program with the Ministry of National Education to create school structures across the country that can accommodate boys and girls who play football all the time, offering them a timetable adapted to every level of schooling,” added Lekjaa.
“Morocco is a young society and our young people have raw talent,” continued the FRMF president, who also said that the Moroccan climate is ideal for playing football. “We are trying to deliver maximum added value in footballing terms so that we can take that raw talent at the age of ten and allow them to express it and raise their game. The idea is to prepare them for life as professional players and for them to kick on and join clubs.”
The talent is there and the facilities too. All that is needed are qualified people to ensure that potential is harnessed to the full. “If the game is going to develop, we need to have professional staff with the ability to deliver,” added Lekjaa. “That’s the vital link that we’re working on and investing so much of our energy in, all to close the gap and allow everyone to enhance their skills with training delivered by the National Academy at both amateur and professional levels.” As a result, Morocco is leading the way with the Talent Development Scheme, setting an example for others to follow, as FIFA technical director Steven Martens confirmed. “The Moroccan FA is very important for FIFA and football in Africa, not just because of its facilities but because of its programs, the president’s vision, and the quality of its training.”
Convinced that the country’s investments will pay off, Martens added: “I know you are anxious for things to happen and are expecting big results but there is no question that the work Morocco is doing now will yield results in the long term. Those results might even come in the medium term. After all, you staged the CAF Women’s Africa Cup of Nations this year, you have qualified for the 2022 World Cup, and your youth teams are starting to put some excellent performances together.”
Impressed by the welcome they received and the facilities, the workshop’s participants had an ideal setting in which to explore the themes raised. ”As a high-performance specialist involved in the TDS project, I’d like to congratulate the Moroccan FA on its amazing facilities. The association and its president had the vision to build this infrastructure to develop talented young players,” commented former Portugal striker Nuno Gomes, while ex-France defender Mikael Silvestre hailed the quality of the national academy: “It is outstanding. It’s lush and green, the pitches are ready and the working environment is first class.”
“It’s a huge honor that FIFA has chosen Morocco to organize this workshop,” said FRMF Director of Training Fathi Djamal. “Morocco was selected because of its many facilities and major logistical resources. It was selected because of the excellent reputation it enjoys around the world for the organization. Our country always led the way in that respect, as a sort of football laboratory, and we can do so again.”
The workshop gave Martens and his team the perfect opportunity to explain the importance of the TDS and FIFA’s development programs. “The TDS is a scheme designed for everyone. It seeks to give every talented player a chance,” he said. “It’s a scheme in which we have consultants taking part along with experts, coaches from around the world, former players, former coaches, and former directors of football. We are here to train the leaders of today and to prepare them. Some 154 countries have already signed up for the scheme and we must help every one of them at their level.”
Based on an innovative study on talent development launched two years ago, the TDS ties in seamlessly with FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s 2020-2023 Vision: Making Football Truly Global. As part of this second phase and in line with the study’s results, national associations can focus on specific aspects of their development needs. “By way of example, the idea of football development at school has taken root among CAF member associations,” explained Martens. “It’s a great idea but a huge challenge too. It involves all the associations and all the countries organizing a regular school competition that could perhaps lead to international competitions. The most important thing, though, is local activity and giving young people the chance to meet up and play regularly.”
“Thanks to the scheme, we are starting to give a chance to every talented player because we believe that to be in the interests of every national association,” he added. “Every association wants their national team to do well, but there’s a lot more to football development than just a path to the top. You have to make sure players stay in the game and are excited by it.” In Morocco, that excitement is spreading across the nation.
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