By Steve Breazeale
When describing the goals of his company, French Soccer Institute CEO Alexis Gallice talks about a pyramid of development. In European club soccer, the bottom levels of the pyramid are select players who work their way up through the organization with the ultimate goal of reaching a senior or professional level team, staying under the guidance of the club the entire time.
Gallice and his fellow employees believe that this structure is what is missing from youth soccer development in the United States and particularly, Southern California.
The French Soccer Institute has been in talks with the city of San Clemente about building a $25 million training facility at Richard T. Steed Memorial Park. The facility will house the youth and adult development teams, complete with two fields and classrooms in order to fully immerse the players in the European-style system.
The decision to start this program in San Clemente turned out to be a no brainer for Gallice and his team.
“It’s the best place for soccer. We know that the level of the young kids is very high,” Gallice said. “We really think the future of soccer is starting in the United States. There is huge potential, a lot of energy.”
The spot is also midway between Los Angeles and San Diego, two other talent-rich areas which FSI hopes to attract to their program.
The model that FSI is presenting to the public is similar to the European model but they claim it is not without adjustments.
Laurent Courtois, an FSI coach who has played professional soccer in the European Premier League as well as in Major League Soccer with Club Deportivo Chivas USA, says that with FSI, education will be a priority. As a young player in France, Courtois was essentially forced to drop out of school in order to pursue a professional career. He has had success finding places to play but knows that once his playing days are over, he does not have much to fall back on outside of soccer.
“When Alexis talked to me about it, I said ‘No chance. I know the model … There is a huge problem with it and I’m not going to build another one,” Courtois said. “But their approach is totally different in terms of developing the player but also developing the human being.”
The way FSI plans to distance themselves from the strict soccer-only European style is with a two-pronged approach. They will offer classes to their players in which they will learn French, which Gallice says helps players keep an open mind not only about soccer but life in general.
Out on the pitch they will stress the importance of the individual to their coaches. Rather than sticking a player in an uncomfortable spot they will be flexible and let the player make choices as to where they want to play.
The program is in its beginning stages right now. The current proposal by the group is to create a practice field on the undeveloped meadowlands at Vista Hermosa Sports Park while their main facility is being built. Once the main facility is completed, FSI plans to leave the new field at Vista Hermosa behind for the city to use. The city and FSI are working on negotiations for a lease.
In the meantime Gallice says FSI is beginning to build relationships with the community and their first set of youth clinics will begin in August.
For updates on the lease negotiations between FSI and the city, visit www.sanclementetimes.com.