Schools of the future

The Continental way: Auxerre and Ajax
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Hugh Kennea laughed. "I've always thought of Auxerre as being like Weymouth," he said, "but obviously the football clubs are a bit different." Indeed, the Channel is not the widest gulf that separates them. Auxerre, champions of France, play in the European Cup quarter-finals in March. Weymouth play in the Southern Division of the Dr Martens League.

Kennea is well qualified to appreciate the gap. A Weymouth man, he works for Auxerre. He teaches English part-time at the Centre de Formation, the French football finishing school that has produced Eric Cantona and Basile Boli, who crossed La Manche after graduating.

The centre is run by Auxerre for the football and academic education of 14- to 18-year-olds. "We have 32 boys living here," Kennea said. "They are all national-standard boys from all over the country, and some from Africa. We have local-level boys too. Basically they train twice a day and we take them through their schooling to A level."

The centre has a school building, dormitories, an indoor training centre and outdoor pitches. The facilities are also used by Auxerre's reserve- team players. The first team train under the guidance of Guy Roux at the Stadium Abbe-Deschamps.

It is rather different to any set-up at a Premiership club, let alone at Weymouth. "Other clubs here have similar things," the Wessex man in Auxerre said. "The centre in Auxerre has been running for 14 years now. Obviously there are drawbacks to having boys away from home at a young age but they have brought through some great players."

The same could be said, and more emphatically, at Ajax. Dennis Bergkamp would tell you they do not call the Amsterdam club an academy without good reason. When Johan Cruyff picked the future Gunner for his first European tie, a Cup-Winners' Cup match in Malmo, he refused to let the 17-year-old striker travel with the rest of the squad the Sunday before the game. Bergkamp was flown out to Sweden on the Tuesday night and was back in the Netherlands on Thursday morning. "It was important he did not miss more than one day's school work," Cruyff explained.

That gives you some idea of the way they do things at Ajax, and one reason why the Dutchman at Highbury happens to have four A levels. The education at what Ajax call their "school" is all-embracing. On the three or four nights each week that Ajax's army of youngsters spend at the club, teachers are employed to ensure school homework is completed on the premises.

De Toekomst - The Future - doubles as Ajax's training complex and youth development centre. The Ajax school is a staggering set-up by English standards. It is broken down into two-year age groups, ranging from six- year-olds up to 18-year-olds. Each age group has at least six teams, and each team has two designated coaches. Players are taught the functions of every numbered position in "the Ajax system", so if the No 2 goes forward they automatically know the No 8 must drop back. It is not so much play-by-numbers as the code to total football.

The professional players have 12 football coaches assigned to them in addition to a fitness coach, a sprint coach and a physiologist, who also work with the youngsters. All first-teamers are required to report to De Toekomst the morning after a game for massage, stretching exercises and light training on the indoor pitch.

Around pounds 3m of Ajax's budget is spent on coaching and development. Having been hit harder than any other big European club by the Bosman ruling, they view it as an essential investment.