#FIFA Insight

The role of the technical director: Andy Roxburgh and Frank Ludolph

FIFA, 19 Dec 2022


In this interview, the technical directors of UEFA and the Asian Football Confederation discuss key issues including the importance of coach education and competitions, and how their confederations can benefit from working in tandem with FIFA's Talent Development Scheme.

In the second in our series on the role of Confederation Technical Director, Andy Roxburgh of the AFC and Frank Ludolph of UEFA explain the similarities and differences of their respective roles, and explain to FIFA's Head of High Performance Programmes Ulf Schott why they often have to take very different approaches as they look to develop the next generation of footballing talent.

Part 1: The role of the technical director

Andy Roxburgh at the AFC
Andy Roxburgh managed Scotland's men's national side from 1986 to 1993. He explains that a technical director at a confederation has a different role to a national technical director, because he does not work directly with teams; the confederation is there to support its member associations, not dictate to them. This is one reason why the AFC has made coach education its top priority, because it is coaches who set the tone at every level of the pyramid, from the grassroots to women's football and developing elite players.  

Frank Ludolph at UEFA
Like the AFC in Asia, UEFA looks to help its member associations develop while respecting their distinctive national identities. However, Frank Ludolph's remit is narrower than Roxburgh's, and is focused on coach education and grassroots football. Both of these overarching areas incorporate a variety of different fields, including ensuring coaching qualifications are recognised across Europe, developing the game in schools and clubs, and football and social responsibility (FSR). UEFA is also responsible for performance analysis and facilitating exchanges between its members on a full range of relevant topics.


Implementing coach development programmes in Asia
In this section, Andy Roxburgh outlines the unique challenges of delivering training for coaches across his region. One of the most obvious is distance – flying from Shanghai to Melbourne, for example, can easily take ten hours. Beyond that, the AFC relies on individual member associations to deliver its training programmes, and those programmes are especially important when it comes to coaching. Providing professional education for coaches means working with rising stars as well as established managers, and it is coaches who steer the overall development of their national teams.

Providing inspiration with a long-term approach
Speaking of training, inspiring member associations to run their own training programmes is only a small part of the AFC's role; for example, it also has to monitor and endorse national coaching programmes so that graduates are granted the licences they need to coach in continental competitions. Roxburgh is also at pains to stress that confederations need to work over five or even 10-year cycles, and that political backing for their work is fundamentally important: without it, they don't get the resources they need to deliver their training in the first place.


"Competitions drive everything"
The AFC's continental tournaments are its top priority, because competition drives every aspect of the game. Results in competitions serve as important benchmarks, and can motivate associations to invest in talent development in order to improve the performances of their national sides. One example of this kind of investment is the AFC Elite Youth Scheme, which was created in order to extend organised infrastructure for youth football beyond regional powerhouses like South Korea and Japan. FIFA is supporting this scheme with funding, educational opportunities and invaluable specialist advice.

Europe: trying to stay ahead of the pack
Europe is home to the "Big 5" leagues and some hugely successful national sides. However, Frank Ludolph is quick to highlight the fact that development is uneven across the continent. This discrepancy has a knock-on effect on grassroots football, and UEFA is running seminars and other regional programmes to address it. As for youth development, UEFA is working with FIFA to expand the European academy network, as well as using the UEFA Youth League as a platform for players and coaches to share their experience and expertise.


Learning the lessons of Qatar 2022
For the AFC, the process of learning lessons from the World Cup will start in January 2023. Unsurprisingly, it will focus on the Asian perspective on the World Cup, after a tournament at which Japan and South Korea emerged as strong footballing nations with aspirations to challenge the traditional contenders. The overall aim will be to incorporate the results of the analysis into coaching programmes, both for current senior players and for the generation of youngsters who might be playing at the World Cup in eight or 16 years' time.

New tools for new talent
FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ suggests coaches may have to use some new tools to develop the stars of the future. For instance, we have observed that defences have become adept at closing down space, meaning that the ability to play in tight spaces is becoming crucial to success. Futsal can help to develop that ability, as well as being a sport in its own right. New tools will also be required for goalkeepers, as they continue their transition to the role of an eleventh outfield player.


Development structures and the importance of grassroots football
Roxburgh and Ludolph are both keen to stress that the role of confederations is to support associations in their football environments, not to dictate how that environment should look. In addition, as Roxburgh points out, the key to talent development is mass participation, not spotting players, because it is mass participation that generates interest in football in the first place and draws talent into the game. Ludolph agrees, and emphasises the crucial role grassroots football at all levels plays not just within the football pyramid, but in society as a whole.

Using tournaments to develop elite players
In this section, Ludolph explains how UEFA analyses its competitions to encourage the development of elite players. UEFA has a team of observers at all its continental competitions, working to produce technical reports. These reports are then released to member associations, whose job it is to disseminate the conclusions to their clubs. As for the specific lessons of the World Cup in Qatar, Ludolph notes that the competition has become more balanced, as shown by Morocco's advance to the semi-finals, and that UEFA are considering new development tools for the 11-a-side game, including futsal.

Part 6: Talent development

Asia: Many nations, many challenges
In the final part of the conversation, the two technical directors turn their attention to FIFA's Talent Development Scheme. Unsurprisingly, targets vary enormously between and within regions. In Asia, Andy Roxburgh is optimistic that all 47 of the AFC's member associations will be signed up to the confederation's own elite youth scheme by 2027. He is also confident that they will be learning from other countries and developing strategies to progress on the international stage, whether that means challenging for the World Cup or simply qualifying for the finals.

Europe: Levelling the playing field
Fundamentally, UEFA is taking a similar approach to talent development, but European nations are generally starting from a higher base. UEFA's primary focus is providing support to developing nations; Georgia is a prime example of a national association that has made great strides in recent years.  However, even in major football nations, there are clubs in the top divisions of their domestic leagues that do not have their own youth academies, and UEFA is particularly keen to see improvements in this area over the next five years.

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