Secret of success

Friday 15 February 2002

When the French national team stand to attention for The Marseillaise, it is like a living advert for the country's youth academy at Clairefontaine near Paris.

Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and David Trezeguet are three of the famous graduates who have helped their country become World and European champions.

The system is the envy of coaches throughout the world, but two Frenchmen are preparing to share their country's treasured secret methods with the English.

Fulham manager Jean Tigana's short-term goal is winning tomorrow's FA Cup fifth-round tie at Walsall, but his long-term plans for success at Craven Cottage entail creating a club version of the Clairefontaine production line.

In assistant manager, Christian Damiano, he has the perfect man.

Damiano was one of the key figures in the French Football Federation's youth development set-up in the 1990s alongside Gerard Houllier. The club's impressive young striker Louis Saha is another product of the famous academy.

Damiano wrote many of the Clairefontaine coaching manuals and has adapted some for use at Fulham's Motspur Park training ground. It has helped the club's Under-18 team reach the quarterfinals of the FA Youth Cup for the first time in 17 years.

However, the radical changes Tigana wants would mean academy members living and being schooled privately on-site to make time for more football training.

The local education authority in Merton would have to make an exception to their rules to allow dormitories at the club's training ground in New Malden.

Fulham have an ambitious five year plan, costing around £5 million and Tigana - who has overhauled the medical and dental treatment at the club - is eager to make it work.

He said: "England are behind France with their youth set-ups but it is not only here - in Italy they are possibly behind England. In France, you build the school around the football club. Here you have the school and the football after.

"Here you have five training sessions a week, in France we have 12 sessions as a young player - that is the difference. In the school you have one teacher for four players and afterwards the players eat and sleep at the stadium."

Fulham's plan is based mainly around their training ground and the development of an indoor facility at the North East Surrey College of Technology in Epsom.

A planning application has already been submitted to build the indoor centre. Other work already under way includes a scheme to train football coaches in the community.

The idea is for Damiano and Tigana to give guidance - and supply equipment - to local coaches, let them watch first-team training and meet the players. The key is to convince them to adopt club exercises and the system of repetition Damiano and Tigana believe in.

In return, they hope the club gets the pick of the best local players at 14 years old who would already be used to Fulham's methods.

Academy director Steve Kean said: "This would really be revolutionary. In France it was agreed at Government level, but the closest we have come to it here was the national school at Lilleshall and then the boys left the centre to go to a local school."

Damiano said: "We want to develop English talent. If your academy is well organised and working well it protects the first team and the club. If the club has financial problems or whatever you know it can survive because you have lots of good young players that you can use.

"We want to use the French model because we know it, not because we think it is better than the English one. It is just that we have had success-with it, we know it works and what can be achieved at each level of a boy's development."