FIFA
#Training framework

Developing the player of the future

FIFA, 27 Feb 2024

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One of the most important aspects of talent development is to understand the profile of future players. As the game evolves, so too will the skills that players require to perform at the top level.

Arsène Wenger is better placed than most to talk about developing the players of the future. After working for many years as a coach at the highest level, he is now FIFA’s Chief of Global Football Development. In this interview, he discusses the key attributes that, in his view, a player must have to make it to the top of the game. In a sport that never stands still, he also assesses how football will change in the coming years, with a focus on technique, and the room for basic aspects of the game – such as precise passing and deliberate dribbling – to be developed further. There are many competencies top players have that allow them to excel in the modern game. However, as Wenger explains, there are several competencies that are especially crucial:

  • Taking in information before receiving the ball.

  • Analysing and evaluating this information.

  • Using this information to think ahead and make quick decisions.

  • Having the depth of vision to break opposition lines by looking beyond immediate team-mates.

  • Remaining flexible when making a decision, should the situation change.

  • Possessing the necessary technical and physical capabilities to accurately execute a decision (e.g. the ability to escape pressure and bypass opponents by running with the ball). 

  • The willingness to take calculated risks (e.g. attempting a line-breaking pass or going one-versus one).

  • An eagerness to reflect on the outcome of decisions and apply these learnings to future matches.

Watch interview

Read summary

0:40
The core competencies that top-level players must have
Wenger begins by highlighting the close relationship that a player should have with the ball. "It must be their friend, they must be ready to receive it at all times". A player should be quick and dynamic when it comes to making decisions and should know when to run with the ball and when to pass it. He also mentions that a player should be athletic and both tactically and technically proficient, including, ideally, being two-footed.

2:44
How the game will look in the future
In the last ten years, the main developments in the game have been physical. In the future, Wenger believes that there will be more of a focus on the technical and mental sides, especially in terms of coping with moments of stress and pressure in a game. Players will have quicker vision and, by better analysing what is going on around them, they will be better equipped to get out of tight situations.

3:53
The importance of technique
Technique is important because it is the expression of a player’s talent. Wenger explains that, in the same way as a writer with limited vocabulary cannot express what they are truly thinking, a footballer without good technique will not be able to pull off what they want to do, even if they can analyse situations well. He goes on to underscore that football is first and foremost a technical game. As it is not natural to play with your feet, your brain needs to be educated so that your feet have the capacity to do what the brain wants. Without this link, technique is limited.

5:19
Developing technique to an even higher level
Wenger expresses his belief that in football, a team should strive to have 11 players with perfect technique. He is confident that in the next ten years, the technical standard of the game will improve, particularly the ability to run with the ball and play a pinpoint pass. Citing Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona as examples, he contends that everyone should be capable of running with the ball and making accurate and incisive passes even while on the move. He sees these as areas for further development.

6:27
The relationship between technical execution and decision-making
Wenger explains that it is technical quality that allows a player to put their decisions into practice. This means that, before a pass is played or a shot is taken, and indeed before making their choice as to their next action, players need to analyse the situation facing them. He goes on to say that flexibility in decision-making is key, as players have to adjust to the ever-changing landscape around them on the pitch. Once a player knows how to make the right decision and has the requisite technique to implement it on the pitch, they have what it takes to be successful.

8:01
Improving players
As well as a player’s strengths, the shortcomings in their game must be analysed in pursuit of improvement. Wenger points out that sometimes, a player can identify their own failings and correct them, but other times, an expert is needed to analyse why the player struggles in certain situations and to provide them with solutions and give them the chance to improve.

10:25
Developing the ability to take in and process information
Wenger explains that the players who take in the most information in the ten seconds before they get the ball are the most successful. To improve this aspect, training drills should be carried out that force players to analyse what is going on around them; this can boost their ability to absorb information in the time before they receive the ball. He states that this is an important ingredient for the future of the game. It can make a player more adept at getting out of pressure situations, as they will be able to take decisions more quickly and be more efficient with their technique.

12:47
Vision in depth
This is what Wenger calls “three-dimensional vision”. He explains that this entails seeing how deep the ball can be played without an opponent reaching it in a very congested area. Once an attack enters the opponents’ half, the situation is a whole different ball game: like in handball, stretching play using the full width of the pitch – combined with finding pockets of space between the lines and making runs in behind the defence – becomes very important. A player who can pick out team-mates in such scenarios will possess keen vision, coupled with quick decision-making skills. Wenger notes that depth vision is a quality that can be developed at a young age, but it can also be honed in training exercises at a later stage.

14:37
Effective training sessions
Wenger believes that there should be three different ingredients in every training session. One of these should involve developing the technical part of the game, such as dribbling, passing or ball control. Then there is the tactical element, which should help improve the likes of vision and decision-making. Finally, there should be at least 20 minutes in which the players are free to simply play football and express themselves.

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