"The value of the UEFA Jira Panel is the concept it supports: the UEFA coaching convention whose aim is raise standards and to educate the coaches of the future," said England's former interim manager and technical director, Howard Wilkinson, a current member of a panel whose work is conducted far from the public gaze. To find out more about it, uefa.com spoke to one of its founder members, the Royal Belgian Football Association (URBSFA-KBVBs) technical director, Michel Sablon.
"It was named after Dr Vaclav Jira, who led a working group set up by UEFA's Committee for Technical Development, which he chaired at the time. Sadly, he died in 1993, before the project became reality. The Jira Commission, as it was called at the time, first met in Paris in March 1995 to establish criteria for the development of coaches at B, A and Pro levels within a project aimed at creating pan-European coaching licences. In Ghent, in January 1997, the first six associations signed the UEFA Coaching Convention and, since then, all 53 member associations have become signatories.
"In a way, the coach educators are the invisible men of football," he continued. "But it's a full-time job, believe me. Courses have to be constantly updated and need to reflect the trends in the game. I recall that, ten years ago, people were insisting that, to be a top footballer, you had to be an athlete and at least 1m80. The game was all about muscles and speed, they said. Spain's victory in the UEFA European Championship and FC Barcelona's UEFA Champions League win have changed people's thinking.
"The UEFA Jira Panel's role has also evolved," he went on. "It wasn't about getting all 53 associations on board and then sitting back. These days, the panel members have a lot of operational and conceptual matters to address, but the most tangible duty is to make regular visits to help associations develop their coaching courses and to evaluate them every three years to make sure they still fulfil the minimum requirements set out in the Coaching Convention. We try to help them by reviewing the content of their courses and by encouraging them to do about 60 per cent of the educational work out there on the pitch – where it really counts. It's fantastic that there are now over 160,000 coaches in Europe with UEFA-endorsed licences and the challenge is continue to develop and upgrade standards.
"The convention has changed as well. It started as a document of about a dozen pages and the version that the panel has recently updated has grown to 60 or 70. This is partly because we need to give it a solid legal basis and partly because new sections and annexes have been added – such as specialised courses for goalkeeping and futsal coaches. The inclusion of the question of coaching qualifications in UEFA's licensing scheme is also an important step forward.
"The priority in the future," Sablon predicted, "will be to make sure that the education of coaches keeps pace with, and even anticipates, the evolution of the game. We need to keep building on all the work done so far in making sure that coaches all over Europe are properly equipped to take on a difficult, solitary job. When we had our first meeting of the Jira Commission, none of us could possibly have imagined that so much would be achieved in such a short space of time. Without exaggerating, I think the progress made all over Europe in coach education represents one of UEFA's greatest achievements and probably one of the most remarkable projects in the world of football."
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