In the first of a three-part series with MLS Technical Director of Youth Development Fred Lipka, he talks about how the Elite Formation Coaching Licensee for MLS coaches will help North America produce elite-level footballers.

Fred Lipka is a football frontiersman mapping a pathway for developing world class players in North America. The MLS Technical Director of Youth Development openly admits he was a ‘very average Ligue 2 and 3 player’ in France. So much so that he hung his boots up at the age of 31 but he has been ingrained in a youth development system that produces world champions ever since.His coaching journey began with ten years at Racing Club de Paris before a move to Le Havre in 2008. Paul Pogba, Benjamin Mendy and Riyad Mahrez were part of Le Havre’s youth set up during Lipka’s three years as Academy Director.By 2012 he was ready to broaden his horizons, which led to him becoming involved in the French Football Federation’s partnership to develop MLS coaches on the Elite Formation Coaching License program.

Lipka said: “My current boss Todd Durbin asked me in 2012 why the USA does not produce high-level players but France do.”There is not just one answer to this question, but to keep the story short I told him we have a special curriculum for coaches, for expert coaches who are going to be in charge of the best talent. “That means we have the best coach for the best players in the best environment and the best elite pathway. “We told him we have a program called EFCL, it is a tradition of the French way, it is an elite coaching curriculum course for Academy directors. “The ECFL allows MLS clubs to skip 50 years of trial and error European football has been through with youth development programs, but Lipka believes it is important to have knowledge and understanding of that history if clubs in North America are to evolve successful academies of their own. 

He explained: “The main emphasis is on knowledge of the kids, knowledge of the top-level game and evolution of the knowledge of the game because the French successes come from different phases we have implemented.”In the 1970s we created a centre called INF Vichy. There was focus on the technical but mainly on the physical aspect because this is where we were behind other nations.”After that Gerard Houllier developed Clairefontaine in Paris and the concept was focused on the individual talents – that was the Nicolas Anelka, Thierry Henry generation. “So we wanted to capture the development of technique and after we had a lot of successes, too much maybe, and a lot of spoilt kids. “We had some bad experiences in South Africa etc, etc and also a lot of countries, possibly influenced by France in some aspects – Spain and Germany built their systems. “This saw a change and we decided to put first the tactical and mental aspect and the technique in the collective aspect. “Technical Director Francois Blaquart revamped all the methodology from scratch to say OK, now we are going to develop smarter players, players to serve the collective aspect, players who have a very good understanding of the knowledge and dynamic of the game, phases of the game, through styles of play which can be completely different.

“Through the ECFL, Lipka is sewing the seeds that he believes will over time see MLS clubs harvest a rich crop of homegrown talent.It is a slow burning methodology, open only to MLS clubs, who send just one coach to be part of the intense 14-month development cycle. Around 60 coaches, from Academy directors like Marc Nicholls at Seattle and Atlanta’s Tony Annan to head coaches like Greg Vanney of Toronto and Luchi Gonzalez of Dallas have completed the ECFL, with a fourth intake due to start the course this year.The idea is that the ECFL qualified coaches then cultivate their academy and feeder club coaches, with the aim to provide an elite pathway for homegrown players. Lipka added: “My goal is to build engineers who are going to build other engineers, who are going to build aircraft, fighter aircraft. 

“We give them the tools and now they have to apply and you have to build your own project. “I don’t want the same club in Colorado as in Orlando. You have to build your own identity, your own resources, your money, your market, your talent pool, your creativity to build your stuff. “The first players who have come through the pipeline of EFCL are the 01-02 players. “I don’t tell you that all the players that come through are going to come through because of ECFL but we are going to be able to develop more players and better players and younger players also because of the change of culture we have injected.”We want to develop the player through the principles of the game so they are able to develop the capacity to read the game, understand the different phases of the game. “I don’t want to impose my way and say you have to play on the break or you have to play in possession. 

“I prefer developing experts and maybe it takes more time but in the end the result will be better.”