Europe's national associations are exchanging invaluable technical know-how as UEFA's innovative project, the Study Group Scheme, moves into another interesting year.
UEFA's innovative technical expertise exchange programme, the UEFA Study Group Scheme, enters the second part of its fourth season in operation in rude health.
More than 30 seminars are planned between now and June, with Europe's national football associations visiting each other to gain and give essential know-how in the areas of elite youth football, women's football, coach education and the grassroots game. Goalkeeper coaching has also been added to the list of topics which are being addressed as part of the scheme, which is an initiative of UEFA President Michel Platini for the overall well-being of European football.
Fittingly, France has been an early host of a Study Group Scheme seminar in 2012. Representatives from the associations of Azerbaijan, Cyprus and Kazakhstan visited the French Football Federation's (FFF) Clairefontaine technical centre to discuss the crucial issue of coach education – a vital cog in football's wheel, given that well-trained coaches help breed good players.
Croatia, too, have already staged a visit this year from Albania, Malta and Montenegro which examined elite youth football. Members of UEFA's Development and Technical Assistance Committee attend the various seminars – Mordechai Shpigler was in France and Vlatko Marković observed proceedings in Croatia.
The objective of the scheme is to facilitate the greater exchange of technical expertise as UEFA member associations visit one another to share knowledge, experience and best practice. The programme aims to raise standards across Europe as association specialists – with the help of UEFA funding – gather technical tips at other associations or at club level.
"Above all, I consider football to be a splendid educational vehicle," Shpigler told the FFF website. "A lot of work needs to be done in every country but Europe can nevertheless be proud of what is being achieved.
"The Study Group Scheme programme is evolving," he added. "It is still in progress, it is a long-term project. The beauty of football is that it can bring together players who speak different languages, but who share the same interest, the same passion. This is also the case for technicians coming from the different regions within UEFA's territory."
In total, 55 seminars have been planned for the 2011/12 cycle. Twenty took place before Christmas, including two goalkeeper coach education sessions in Brussels and Dublin. Another 35 seminars are scheduled until June, with two further goalkeeper coaching events being held in Stockholm (March) and Amsterdam (May).
One forthcoming seminar, slotted for later this month, will be hosted by Spain, with Belgium, Albania and Georgia visiting for a grassroots football exchange. UEFA honorary member and grassroots ambassador Per Ravn Omdal will also be in attendance. Women's football, meanwhile, will be on the agenda when Hungary, Serbia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia visit Norway.
UEFA is also looking forward to counting five new associations among its Study Group Scheme hosts – Israel, Malta, Cyprus, Moldova and Slovenia.