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UEFA Pro licence student exchange shaping coaches of the future

Trainerausbilder Die UEFA Mitglieder

Eighty students, including former international players and current head coaches, learn from each other and industry experts at UEFA HQ in Switzerland.

 UEFA Pro License Student Exchange students at UEFA HQ
UEFA Pro License Student Exchange students at UEFA HQ UEFA via Getty Images

What traits do successful coaches have in common? How should coaches deal with modern players or know how to supply them with vital tactical information? And how should a head coaching role work alongside a technical director?

These are all questions posed this week to the latest group of UEFA Pro licence exchange students, a group of more than 80 men and women currently working towards obtaining European football's top coaching qualification.

Learn about UEFA coaching licences

Among them are a wide range of figures with varying roles in the game, including former international players and current national team head coaches, all studying for their Pro licence with the national associations of Croatia, Israel, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Glenn Whelan played 91 times for the Republic of Ireland between 2008 and 2019 and has recently been appointed in his nation's national team coaching set-up under interim manager John O' Shea (who himself took part in the Pro licence student exchange in 2021). He believes being able to share ideas with other students and hear from experienced coaches makes the experience invaluable.

"It's massive being able to come to Nyon this week with coaches from other nations, putting our heads together and bouncing ideas off each other – it's great for learning and I'm just trying to be like a sponge and take everything in," the 40-year-old said.

"Presenting ideas to others takes you out of your comfort zone and it's not something I'm used to, so this is all part of the learning and added to that, technology within football is advancing now. You have to learn how to improve, otherwise you're going to be left behind by other coaches and analysts."

Glenn Whelan presents to fellow coaching students
Glenn Whelan presents to fellow coaching studentsUEFA via Getty Images

Eye-opening details from seasoned coaches

Hearing from frontline coaches who have already experienced life at the top provides a fascinating insight for the students. Swede Pia Sundhage has coached on four continents and will lead Switzerland at next summer's UEFA Women's EURO 2025, while Aitor Karanka was a three-time UEFA Champions League winner as a player before moving on to high-profile coaching and management roles in his native Spain, as well as in England and Israel.

"To share knowledge, network and build contacts and relationships with other coaches is important," Karanka said. "It was really difficult for me to transition from a player to a coach. In my head, I wasn’t going to be a coach. I wanted to stay involved in football, but I thought it was going to be very difficult as a coach.

"When you're a player you think you know everything, but the first time I went into the changing room as a coach, I was nervous and felt how hard it was going to be. But if you have the passion, want to always learn and keep improving, with clear ideas. That’s the most important thing."

Helping students make important decisions

Karanka's words will have resonated with former Croatia international Niko Kranjčar, who is currently assistant coach of his country's men's Under-19 team after a career that included spells in England, Scotland, Ukraine and the United States.

"It's hard for ex-footballers. There are a lot of us who are not sure how to proceed in our careers but believe we can give something back to the game that made our lives," Kranjčar said. "It's an industry where you aren’t given a lot of time [as a head coach], with more lows than ups, so you need passion and to be prepared for the sacrifices, otherwise it's going to be a difficult world for you, and that’s something we have touched on a lot.

"I am still thinking about my future. There are a lot of scenarios where you can coach, different age levels for example, and knowing where you will find the passion and fulfilment is crucial."

Niko Kranjčar chats with former Northern Ireland international and fellow coaching student Aaron Hughes
Niko Kranjčar chats with former Northern Ireland international and fellow coaching student Aaron HughesUEFA via Getty Images

About the UEFA Pro licence student exchange

Now in its 13th season, the programme's previous students include Xabi Alonso, Martínez, Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Patrick Vieira.

The programme offers a modern, collaborative learning environment and brings together Pro licence students from different footballing backgrounds for discussion, debate and practical training sessions. Interactive presentations and mini-workshops come from renowned experts both within the game, such as Everton director of football Kevin Thelwell, Sundhage and Karanka, as well as academic leaders such as Professor Sergio Lara-Bercial, of Leeds Beckett University and the International Council for Coaching Excellence, and Andy Cale, formerly head of player development and research at the English FA. Sessions focus on a variety of topics, including leadership, decision-making, crisis situations, mental strength, dealing with pressure, and the human skills required to handle media, player and supporter expectations.

Led by their national association coach education directors, students also learn from UEFA's team of technical instructors with experience working in the elite game: Packie Bonner, Phil Church, Ruud Dokter, Jayne Ludlow and Kris van der Haegen.

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