In recent years, Switzerland have carved out a reputation for punching well above their weight. Having qualified from their group at every major tournament since the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the senior national side cemented its reputation as a force to be reckoned with by getting the better of European Champions Italy in qualifying for this World Cup, consigning the Azzurri to a play-off they ultimately lost. As Head of Youth National Teams Francesco Gabriele explains, the consistent success of the senior team on the biggest stage owes much to Switzerland's sophisticated youth development programme.
The importance of the World Cup
Although Switzerland's youth teams are not directly involved in FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, Gabriele explains that the tournament represents an important opportunity for his coaches to keep on top of the latest developments in the game, strengthen the analytical capability within the youth coaching system, and support the senior side's World Cup campaign.
Switzerland's talent pathway
In this section, Gabriele sets out the fundamental structure of the Swiss youth development system, which aims to identify the best talent currently available for selection in the various age groups at the same time as being flexible enough to accommodate 'late-developers' who only break into the national set-up at 19 or 20. Ardon Jashari, who entered the pathway at U-21 level before being selected for the World Cup in Qatar, is a classic example of that flexibility.
Working with clubs to develop talent
Youth national teams and the tournaments they compete in can play a major part in young players' development, but Gabriele is at pains to stress that clubs also play a huge part in nurturing promising youngsters. This means a close working relationship between the clubs and the national coaches is crucial, as is a system that allows them to exchange all the information they need.
Reporting back to clubs
The Swiss have worked hard to put that crucial system in place. They encourage close collaboration between clubs and the national association, as well as investing time and resources in cultivating strong relationships between national youth coaches and clubs. Coaches are also encouraged to get to know every player in their squad, not least so they can support them when the going gets tough. Footballers are human beings first and athletes second – the Swiss approach reflects that.
Coaching and education
Switzerland recently changed the structure of its youth coaching system, appointing specialist coach educators and thus allowing the coaches to concentrate on preparing their teams for competition. Nevertheless, youth team coaches still make a major contribution to coach education work, for example by presenting their tournament experience to coaching courses or providing examples from youth national team games for use as examples. While individuals specialise in their own fields, the Swiss know that youth development has to be a multi-disciplinary team effort.