The UEFA Champions League continues to prove its value as the competition everyone wants to win – and, in the eyes of Europe's top club coaches, the UEFA Europa League is showing the potential to blossom in the coming years.
Discussions and ideas at the 14th UEFA Elite Club Coaches Forum at the House of European Football in Nyon ranged from the quality of the European club competitions through developments in refereeing to the changing profile of the modern-day coach. Each year since 1999, UEFA has invited the leading club coaches on this continent to its headquarters to debate modern football trends and put forward proposals which UEFA can consider for the future.
A star-studded list of coaches attended the forum – and the participants were swift in giving the thumbs-up to the two major European club competitions. "They're very happy with the standard of the UEFA Champions League, its organisation, the way it is presented and the quality of the football," said UEFA technical director Andy Roxburgh.
"They were also supportive of the UEFA Europa League – we need to be patient, it is already showing good signs, and we need to give the competition time to be built up. European football needs the two competitions, not only for the interest in Europe, but also for the impact it has in the domestic leagues as well." The coaches also gave a positive greeting to this summer's UEFA EURO 2012 – in particular in terms of the attitude of players and coaches, and the positive play produced by the teams.
Over the 14 Elite Club Coaches Forums staged since 1999, the scope of discussions has widened to cover management and leadership issues. "Here, we talked a lot about the details that matter to the coach – relations with the players and dealing with the build-up to a match during the week – and the coaches had an interesting exchange of ideas and philosophies."
Arséne Wenger, much-respected manager of Arsenal FC since 1996, explained how the profile of the elite club coach has changed over the years. "Basically, the job has gone from a purely technical role to multi-dimensional function," said the Frenchman.
"It means that, today, a coach not only has the technical responsibilities, but he is also someone who is the charismatic leader of a club, a guy who gives a style of play and guides the club towards the future, and who has a responsibility to convince people that he has the potential to do it. The role is less technical – and more human and persuasive. It has gone from being a coach to being a manager."
The UEFA forum also offers young coaches the opportunity to learn from experienced colleagues who have gathered a wealth of knowledge at the summit of the game. "As a young coach and from a small country, it's my first time here and it's a privilege to be with all of the best coaches in Europe," said Kasper Hjulmand of Danish UEFA Champions League debutants FC Nordsjælland.
"There's so much information, and we hear so many experienced coaches just tell their story. And you can see that the things that they're facing, I'm facing too. It's football and it's a passion for football ..."
Another highlight of the forum was a presentation on recent developments in refereeing by UEFA chief refereeing officer Pierluigi Collina – notably on the additional assistant referees deployed successfully in UEFA's competitions, and part of the Laws of the Game since July.
"This was quite illuminating for a lot of people in the room," said Roxburgh. "I'm not sure that [the coaches] were aware of what everybody's duties were – and the kind of angles and vision that they have. The additional eyes have definitely improved things. They certainly have a deterrent effect on pulling, pushing and elbowing in the penalty box."
"What was interesting and surprising for us is how much [the match officials] communicate together, and how intense the communication is," Wenger added.
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