Arsene Wenger reflects on Afcon

15 February 2024 19:12

Arsène, you were at the final of Afcon. It was an incredible tournament. We saw some of the so-called smaller nations performing and competing with bigger countries. What was your overall impression and assessment of the tournament?

I would say that there have been remarkable improvements since the last tournament on the pitch, off the pitch, the organisation, the quality of the pitches, the level of organisation on the pitch as well, and the commitment was intense.

Overall, it was a tournament of the small margins between the teams.

I must say, as well, it shows that information travels very quickly, and the phenomenon that we have seen there is that there was little space to play. The compactness of the team was what we had already seen in Doha at the 2022 Fifa World Cup. And, it looks to be a trend in the world, that teams don’t give space away.

Do you think going forward, developing club competition within Africa itself will help drive better players, too?

100 per cent, you know, because most of the time, these countries lose their players because they cannot afford to keep them. And, we need to build stronger clubs. Let’s not forget, it’s 1.4 billion people in Africa, you know.

The potential, it’s a goldmine for football. And, to make stronger clubs, to have stronger competitions is vital, because that was the success of Europe – they have strong clubs and good education and we want that: to develop that as well in Africa – everywhere.

It’s starting, it’s getting better but we want to support that development.

You touched on it there, obviously lots of great work on the pitch but, also, off the pitch too. The Fifa Forward investment has been an important factor there, but what are those next steps needed in the region that need to be taken?

I would say the next steps are the education of the young players; that’s what Fifa has contributed to a lot, creating good infrastructures in the first instance. Now, the second step is within these infrastructures, develop the education of the young players and help them to create even more talents. We are in this phase, now, at Fifa, and we will develop more academies in all the countries in Africa.

I believe that is the next great development of Africa. Let’s not forget that we have more teams at the World Cup in 2026, 48 teams, and I, personally, have a dream that in every confederation – especially in Africa – they can really challenge for the World Cup.

We are not far away but they need to make that little step. I’m trying to convince, as well, the African countries that they have the potential but they just need to push very quickly the development of their young players.

The talent is there and they’re on the right track and we want to encourage them at Fifa to do it.

You mentioned there the increase in spaces at the next World Cup. Obviously, more spaces for CAF, in Africa. Looking at previous editions of the World Cup and how countries and regions have developed – Asia, for example, with Japan and South Korea – do you see similar opportunities for African countries, going forward?

I see similar potential, yes. And we want, basically – we at Fifa – we want football all over the world. We want to develop Asia, we want to develop Africa.

When I say ‘we want to develop’, it’s a bit pretentious. We want to help them to develop, you know? I would like to use my knowledge to help them to do it. When you are at Fifa, you think the job will really be done the day everybody can aspire to win the World Cup.

That’s our basic job and Africa is part of that, Asia, OFC and Concacaf too. Of course, Conmebol and Europe share it at the moment, but we want them to be challenged by all the Confederations.

And that is just through education that it will happen and creating strong competitions. Competitions are important as well and the fact that you organise a Fifa Under-17 World Cup every year will allow the youth, as well, to develop quicker.

Therefore, we need to prepare these young players and that’s what we want to do.

For people who, maybe, don’t understand the term ‘football education’, how would you simplify it? What does it mean?

It means just to make the ball your friend.

Football is played with your feet and that’s not completely natural, it has to be educated. To do it well, you have to start at a very, very young age. Once you have that basis, you have to prepare the players to adapt to every style of play.

But they can only do it if they have the right level technically and that’s what we want to do. Our academies for boys and girls start at Under 12. At 17, they go into competitive football but, first, you have to prepare them.

Arsene, from Fifa’s perspective, the Talent Development Scheme, how will that further help to develop football in Africa? For you, personally, what is your focus and priority for the next six months / one year?

Over the next six months and one year, it’s to open more academies. We are now close to opening a new one in Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Ghana and Zambia and we want to develop five new academies there and, at the end of 2026, we’ll have 75 academies all over the world. That means football education has moved forward and that’s what we’re focusing on at the moment.

We want the game to be more competitive and of better quality and there is only one way to do it: it’s the quality of the education and quality of the competitions.