Arsène Wenger outlines FIFA plan to establish 211 elite youth academies

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FIFA plan to establish elite youth academies in all its 211 member associations — including New Zealand — by 2027.

Leading the initiative is FIFA’s chief of global football development, Arsène Wenger, who says the aim is to give every promising player a chance to flourish.

“I believe that we [are moving] very quickly from a society of work towards a society of sport, and football lovers have a big responsibility in that, to give every country a chance to develop our sport,” Wenger explained to a recent FIFA Football Summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Main photo: Arsène Wenger presenting his plan to the Football Summit. Photo credit:

In some countries, he said, existing facilities may also be considered as part of the FIFA Academy standards process.

“Overall, we will communicate the FIFA criteria. When I say we have our own academies, we also have the academies that the federations develop themselves,” he said.

“And, if they respect our criteria, that means the quality of the identification of talent, the quantity of training sessions, the infrastructure — they can get to the FIFA Academy criteria.”

NZ Football’s reaction to FIFA’s plan

Asked how NZ Football would help implement a youth academy, a spokesperson told Friends of Football: “We are working with FIFA to understand more about their plans and how it would work in a New Zealand context.”

Wenger, who has been overseeing the implementation of the FIFA Talent Development Scheme (TDS) which offers bespoke assistance to Member Associations (MAs) to help them achieve their full potential, aims to reduce the footballing disparities between different regions around the world.

Some 176 MAs have already enrolled in the TDS — surpassing the stated goal of 150 for the year, set when applications opened in April 2023 — with FIFA having released US$28 million in funding globally to provide the necessary support to youth development initiatives.

Arsène Wenger outlines the plan to delegates at the FIFA Summit in Saudi Arabia. Photo credit:

To provide a solid technical basis for the development of the FIFA Academies, FIFA has already deployed 24 coaches to support the identification of talented players, and six more will soon follow – in Liberia, Malawi, Zambia, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin and Ghana.

They will be supported by full-time local coaches provided by the respective MA in order to ensure the project’s legacy by establishing a coaching talent pool in the country.

Together, the coaches will implement the three key pillars of the initiative: find talented players, train them to give them the tools to best exploit their ability, and give them the opportunity to put what they have learned into practice by playing matches.

“We need specialised eyes to go in there and help to identify the talent because we want to give the importance to intelligence, to technique, to the technical level,” Wenger says.

Wenger: ‘We want to develop a technically perfect player’

He said a “minimum contact time” of five training sessions and one game per week for players aged between 12 and 15 years of age was required to enable talent to flourish.

“Basically, we want to develop a technically perfect player. That means no matter what, we want to make the ball your friend. No matter where it comes from, it is welcome. And that means we want to equip the players to deal with every situation they will face in football. And that is technique. We are firstly a technical sport — we never want to forget that.”

Given the ideal age range of FIFA Academy attendees is 12 to 15 years old — “(because) at 11 or 12 years old, we are at a crossroads of all the ingredients of the development of a football player” — the teaching of academic subjects as well as football skills will also be an integral part of the curriculum.

“We want to combine instruction and education, because if you do not become a top-level football player you can still have a great life if you have the right education.

“And our responsibility goes beyond producing top-level players — this is as well something we want to embrace — it’s to make reliable people who can have a bright life after,” he said, noting that the financial situation of a young player’s family would be no handicap.

“We have many private academies in the world, but unfortunately many children with talent cannot have access to these private academies, because you have to pay to get in.

“We want, everywhere in the world, that every talent in the world can go and play football for free. And that’s why this is a very important criteria for us to get the FIFA Academy label to be free access for every single person.”

The cooperation between the local education system and the FIFA Academies reinforces the collaborative essence of the project, and Wenger stressed the initiative’s success would only be achieved through member associations and FIFA working hand-in-hand.

“The world is moving quickly, and people are inspired, they want to do something,” he said.

“But I would just like to remind you, this is not tomorrow, it is now that we want to do it. And I would just like to appeal for a sense of urgency. We want to do it quickly. And we can change the world by doing it well.”

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