One of the many activities conducted by FIFA to enhance football worldwide has found its way also to Eritrea. I spoke to Mr. Fritz Schmid, professional coach and sportsman, trying to figure out what this project is all about.
- -Please introduce yourself to our readers, and tell us, how it feels to be in Eritrea.
My name is Fritz Schmid and I am from Switzerland. I am here in Eritrea as an instructor and coach trainer on behalf of FIFA. Eritrea is a very pleasant country. I like it. It is the first time for me to be in Eritrea, and also, my first time to meet representatives of the Eritrean Football Association. I can say that my expectations have been met. If I am to speak about my personal background, I currently am working in development projects for FIFA, AFC and UEFA.
Moreover, I couched many European teams and I have also worked with many national teams. In the last four years I have been in Asia functioning as a technical director for football association in Asia.
- -You were born and grew up in Switzerland. How is the culture of football over there? Where did you get the inspiration to be in your current profession?
I grew up playing football. I was unlucky, or lucky enough, that I left professional games early on in time due to an injury. Which put me into coaching very early in my life. I have been in the business for over 35 years now. I have seen the professional side of coaching while coaching on top level and I have also seen the educational side of it while educating coaches. Right now I am more of an advisor, sometimes running strategic projects.
- -Before the interview, you mentioned that you were a journalist at some point…
I studied English, German and journalism. I was also a sport’s journalist in Switzerland for the National Sports Agencies for almost five years. Therefore, I covered international football matches, some world cups, champions’ league and so on. I know from experience that it is good to be a coach who has experience with the media. That is why as a coach of a team you’d always know what your opponent would expect from you. You step ahead of the game.
- -Back to Eritrea, what did you know about this country before coming?
Actually it was when FIFA appointed me to run the first ever fitness coaching course in Eritrea that I started to search about Eritrea. I know that you are a developing country and that football is in development. But, every morning while walking from my hotel to the technical center all I see is countless cyclists. I now know that the association is working hard to make football a top sport in the country. So you can realize that there is a lot of competition in the sports area: Eritrean cyclists are extremely good, you have famous marathoners and now I hope we can add football to the picture.
Talking about football, or soccer as you call it here, we all know that it is a very powerful sport all over the world. So, it won’t be an easy task. You have to invest in people so that you can earn their trust. You also have to make plans for players since a young age and turn them into future professional players. Last but not least, you also have to accommodate the fans and followers of the sport in order to boost the social aspects impelled by the spirit of the sport. I have noticed that people in Eritrea are extremely keen on Premier League and La Liga in Spain. They are not as interested in the local football; I can say that there is a lot for Eritrea to do.
- -Before we get into technical details of the project, do you know how this project was raised in the first place?
The project of the coaching course is part of the development programs of FIFA associations. FIFA has a lot of development projects. Sometimes they have projects to support memberships and members aiming to boast football’s growth by providing equipment, trainers and so on. There is a lot of capacity building projcets in which FIFA offers coaching courses on several levels; starting from grassroots’ up to higher levels. And fitness training, which is what I am doing right now, is another component of the development program overseen by FIFA.
- -What is your experience in this specific field, fitness?
In Eritrea it is obvious that there is a lot of ground to cover. If you just start running your first ever fitness coaching course, you have to start from scratch. You have to work hard in the area of understanding the duties and responsibilities of the fitness coach as well as the impact of fitness at a professional level. Therefore, trainers must understand how to evaluate the game and, accordingly, set out plans for the players’ real physical demands.
- -How is it going so far? How do you feel about working with Eritrean coaches?
They are very interactive. They have been involved in discussions and group works from the start; that helped the course to progress smoothly. It was understandable that in the beginning the experience was somehow new to them, but now, they are getting used to it and approaching the course wholeheartedly. They extend their opinions and offer solutions. We then decided to speedily move to practical sessions. So we’re learning by doing. It is definitely an interesting approach to see how interested they are. It shows how greatly they’ll engage in the future.
- -As a professional of many years, do you feel that this project will have positive impact on Eritrean football?
Let’s be careful here. Yes, it will have an impact for the first weeks but the key drivers for its sustainability are the coaches themselves. All involved professionals must live up to their duty to make this course practically fruitful.
Therefore, it is all up to them. If not, it will simply be, just one other project.
- -As Eritrea’s Football Association is in its earliest phase, with relatively small progress in the field of football and its endeavors, what do you think will this mean, speaking in terms of relations between Eritrea and FIFA?
I would say the relation is comparable to all other member associations’. There are about 200 worldwide. And FIFA is always ready to offer qualified projects aiming at several purposes. Speaking of relationships, though, it is always the responsibility of the member associations to request and work towards a maintainable link with FIFA and the other member associations. For example, there is a lot of financial support extended by FIFA; learning and getting information on how to benefit from monetary and other supporting schemes while implementing the pertinent project on ground, should be the member association’s task. So when speaking of relationships, it is the member association that sits in the driver’s seat.
This project is very important to the Eritrean Football Association. It creates a platform to reach out to all the local coaches to enhance their performance by providing pertinent supplies. The group with whom I am working now is made of 30 fitness coaches. But the association was smart enough to introduce and invite all of the head coaches as observers. This way the knowledge would be transferred and passed on to the people who really are in the drive and have the responsibilities and vision for progress. So I think this is a very important step for the association.
- -Before we end, is there anything you want to add?
The first two days after my arrival I was very busy running back and forth preparing the sessions. Although, I would have liked to go around Asmara, I have seen just a bit of the city center. But from the little I saw it was very interesting and very enjoyable. I like it very much. I hope that the coaches in the course picked up what we’re sharing and really use it to start a new phase for the Eritrean football, with great responsibility looking forward to personal and collective growth.
- -Will you come back to Eritrea as a tourist?
- -We hope to see you back too. Thank you for your time.