#Good practice

"Future" teams and talent ID in Belgium

FIFA, 04 Jul 2024


Over the last decade or so, Belgium have established themselves as one of Europe’s most dangerous and exciting senior sides. The Red Devils’ innovative approach to talent development has played a big part in that success, and they are still looking for ways to stay ahead of the pack.

Belgium is a relatively small country, and its remarkable performances in recent times have been predicated on a highly effective system for developing and nurturing talent. In this presentation, Belgian FA sports scientist Arne Jaspers explains how his association keeps late-developers in the talent pool as they mature, and how it is embracing new technology to help it find the next generation of stars.

Good practice

  • Developing a systematic approach to talent development will give you a better chance of spotting a star.
  • Keep late-developers in your youth system for as long as you can, and give them every chance to prove themselves. This is especially important for small countries with limited player numbers.
  • Embracing new technology can help your scouts do their jobs more effectively – but never underestimate the value of an experienced coach.

Watch presentation

Introduction by Jelle Schelstraete, Technical Director of the RBFA
Part 1: Current performance v. future potential
Part 2: The Future Teams programme
Part 3: The future of talent development

Read summary

Part 1: Current performance v. future potential
One of the biggest challenges for any talent development system is comparing youngsters who are maturing at wildly different rates. As Jaspers explains, these differences in biological maturity can have an enormous impact on youth systems and pose a major challenge for talent ID. These differences contribute in turn to the relative age effect, which tends to favour “early-developers” and can lead to talented players being overlooked. Belgium’s “Futures” teams are designed to keep those late-developers in the system until they can demonstrate their true potential.

Part 2: The Future Teams programme
Belgium’s pioneering Futures squads are designed to help bring late-developers to the very top of the game by creating opportunities for them to play more competitive football. With alumni of the calibre of Thibaut Courtois and Dries Mertens, the system has fulfilled that brief admirably in recent years. In this part of the session, Jaspers gets down to the nuts and bolts of how the programme works, including how Futures squads are selected and the way the association combines expert coaching with scientific analysis to pick out potential internationals.

Part 3: The future of talent development
To finish, Jaspers turns his attention to the future of the RBFA’s youth programmes. The association currently holds a Chair at the University of Ghent, and is working closely with the institution to stay a step ahead of the competition. One of the key insights from their research is that being selected for youth national teams is not a reliable predictor of success at senior level. This underlines that even the best scouts struggle to take all the relevant factors into account at once, which is why the RBFA is investing in AI and video analysis to help them.

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