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“I am proud to see Eritrea host the CECAFA U-15 tournament”

Ulrich Mathiot is the current technical director of the Seychelles Football Federation. More importantly, he is a FIFA instructor who works on the grassroots and youth development programs. Mr. Mathiot has been to Eritrea on numerous occasions. In 2012 he helped kick start the grass roots program in Eritrea. Last week, Q&A spoke to him about the development of football.

  • Would you introduce yourself to our readers?

My name is Ulrich Mathiot. I am from the Republic of Seychelles, a very small Island in the Indian Ocean. I am here in the capacity of FIFA instructor and I am also the technical director of the Seychelles football federation. I have been doing a lot of work for FIFA as an instructor in both the grassroots and youth development programs and I’m a CAF instructor and have been helping out in doing a lot of licenses from C to A, as well as working with women elite courses. As you can see I’m someone who has been in the field for quite a while. I have been to most of the countries that are here in Eritrea at the moment taking part in the CECAFA U-15 tournament.

  • This is your fifth visit to Eritrea…………

Eritrea is like my second home. This is my fifth visit. My first visit was back in 2012. FIFA sent me here in the capacity of a consultant. At the time Eritrea’s football federation wanted to develop the grassroots program and they wanted a consultant and I was sent here to talk to different stakeholders such as the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Health, the Olympic Committee and other stakeholders. During my stay we talked on how to bring football to Eritrean kids from the age of six. I spent a few days here studying the environment and I went back to FIFA with a report and a structure on how to start a grassroots football program. As a result, FIFA sent the report and structure to the Football Federation here. As of 2012 the federation has been working on the development of grassroots football program in the country. After that I came back to the country three years in a row, my last being in 2017. Like I said this is my fifth time. I can already witness the development of the program in the country, which at the moment, I can say, is culminating in the hosting of the first ever CECAFA U-15 tournament which is a very good achievement for a country that has been working on the development of youth football from 2012.

I actually had a chance to see the match against Sudan and I could see the level, the difference, especially on the things the Federation has been working on. What we are observing now is the result of the grassroots program. I would like to say congratulations to the federation and to all the participating countries. I was also the one who launched the grassroots program in Mogadishu and I can also see that the Somali football federation is being represented by kids that have come through the system. It is a win-win situation for all involved. I am very happy to see this. But the work just started now.

  • Your visit is coinciding with the current U-15 tournament underway and you have had a chance to watch a couple of games. From what you have seen, do you think we are heading in the right direction?

Yes. I think this type of an event is a tournament, not a competition, because with young football players it is all about development, not about winning. This is a very encouraging initiative that has been taken by CECAFA. I hope other organizations like COSAFA and others take notice and follow suit. It is important that we provide these kids with a playing platform. This is what makes the European countries different from ours and why their football has developed so quickly over the years. The kids have tournaments from the age of 13 onwards. By the time they reach senior U-20 level they have a lot of mileage of game they need for their progress. I hope this type of tournament is here to stay. You can’t just organize it once and not do it again on time.

One thing that will be most important is that this type of tournament for the U-15 will change a lot of mind sets. The mind set of all members of the association. When preparing for this kind of tournament, it is important that a federation has a grassroots system in place. As such, all members of the association must take the grassroots program as an indispensable program in order to produce and nurture young talented footballers of the future. When a tournament like this approaches, the players must come from somewhere. They cannot just come from school or the street; they must have an organized structure. That is where the grassroots program comes into the equation. That is why the federation must focus on that and see it as a step-up development. In two years’ time they will be playing the U-17 tournaments. This is where the competition starts. The competition level usually starts at the CAF U-17 and World Cup U-17 games. The current tournament will be like a platform where young players will get the necessary game experience needed so as to prepare for the U-17 qualifier and later on for the U-20.

Third, when I watched the game between Eritrea and Sudan I saw a lot of kids in the stadium. I am sure those kids have dreams of playing for their country. In order for them to do that they must get involved in football early on so as to develop the love and passion to play. Football is an education. I am sure that next week you will see a lot of kids everywhere on the street playing football. All member federations must make sure they provide the structure to accommodate these young footballers. On the other hand, for the parents it is a proud moment to see their children representing their nation. It fosters passion and patriotism and love for one’s country. The Eritrean Football Federation must expand and reach kids in different parts of the country. Having a grassroots program is a big deal. It is like preparing the strongest foundation on which to build your football. The federation must prepare for that because with that comes the budget, the development of human resources, the coaches and, above all, the facilities, the training field, equipment and so on.

Ultimately hosting a tournament such as this is important not just for the public but for the sponsors as well. Now they [sponsors] can see that this type of activity brings people together. I am positive soon enough numerous sponsors will come knocking on your door to lend a hand. Personally I am very proud to see Eritrea hosting this tournament. We have been working hard and closely with the federation every time we meet at forums and we do our best to exchange information.

  • Peace and football

This is a social manifestation; it is not only about football. Peace and football go hand in hand together. Football, like I said, is an education and I am sure from now on your nation might want to have friendly matches with Ethiopia. Perhaps the Eritrean team will go there and play without anything holding them back. In my opinion, sport, especially football, can bring sustainable peace. When it comes to football there are no boundaries and it will help with the healing process.

  • Last words…..

This tournament for me is not about who loses and who wins. As far as I am concerned every one taking part is a winner. If we have to choose one winner it should be the Eritrea National Football Federation. By hosting this tournament, they have won over a lot of hearts and I hope you will promote this achievement through local and social media outlets and send documentation of the entire tournament to FIFA and CAF. And they will see that this is only the beginning.

Again, I will say congratulations to the ENFF, the government, ministries and all the stakeholders. Finally I wish you all the best for the future and I hope I will be around to see more successful tournament such as the current one being held here. Thank you.

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