Photo Credit: OFC Media

Fijian Football Association (FFA) staff have experienced an ‘eye-opening’ four-day trip visiting some of the best high-performance football environments in Australia.

With the intention of launching a new National Academy in 2025, the Fijian FA in partnership with OFC embarked on a study visit to Sydney this week.

The goal – to provide staff with a truly unique opportunity to immerse themselves and gain better understanding of high performance and talent development environments.

OFC High Performance Consultant, Dave Wright, teamed up with Fijian Football Association to lead and facilitate the visit. Utilising his own experience in top academies to help translate ideas the group would see with a view to adapting them to the Fijian context.

The FFA team consisted of:

  1. Timo Jankowski – Technical Director
  2. Anushil Kumar – General Manager Operations
  3. Sushil Singh – Head of Development South
  4. Dhirend Chand – Head of Development West
  5. Annette Charmayne Nainima – Head of Women’s Talent Identification and Development
  6. Sunil Kumar – Head of Talent Development

First stop was the world class Allianz Stadium to watch the Sydney FC take on Brisbane Roar in the Men’s A-League.

Photo Credit: OFC Media

Given the mix of staff from leadership, commercial and technical, the team was provided with a view across all elements of the football business in two high performance environments at Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers.

The game showcased the professionalism and level required to prepare to perform on the pitch. It also provided great insight around the commercial elements of game day, from sponsorship, fan engagement, community involvement, and the stadium experience.

The experience will come in handy for Fijian FA Head of Talent Development Sunil Kumar, who was grateful for the opportunity to observe the impressive facilities.

“I think it’s so important in the talent development and development of football in our country. Fans are one of the biggest stakeholders and keeping them involved is so important. It’s something we’ll take back to our country so that we can keep the current fans and at the same time, get more fans on board with us in Fiji,” Kumar said.

Photo Credit: OFC Media

At Western Sydney Wanderers staff met Head of Women’s Football, Tom Sermanni, who led them around the training ground. They observed the A-League Men’s team train, then met and talked to CEO Scott Hudson, and A-League Women’s Head Coach Robbie Hooker.

FFA staff had the privilege of catching up with Western Sydney Lead Community Coach, Geoff Abrahams, who has over twenty years’ experience coaching elite football teams and A-League Men’s Assistant Coach Jean-Paul de Marigny.

Fijian FA’s Head of Women’s Talent Identification and Development, Annette Charmayne Nainima, says the knowledge gained is something they need to implement back in Fiji.

“The main important thing that I learned is that we need to be really clear about our playing philosophy and ensuring that all us heads were all in line and working towards the same goal,” said Nainima.

Photo Credit: OFC Media

Cross-town rivals Sydney FC saw Head of Fan Engagement Howard Fondyke deliver powerful insights into the long-term vision to build the club’s brand with practical ideas that were beneficial to the Fijian FA staff.

To be able to observe two highly successful A-League clubs Sydney FC, Western Sydney Wanderers was of real value for the FFA group who are working towards the development of an elite National Academy.

Spending some time looking at youth teams and NPL Senior teams train and a long group session with Academy Manager Nick Susko, provided Technical Director Timo Jankowski with valuable ideas about how a club needs to operate.

“What was great to see was the aligned way of working, serving the coaches and the players having an aligned philosophy, that was very visible on the pitch. I think because of this aligned philosophy, we saw high quality players, very good training sessions, training design was exceptional, but also aligned all over. So, I think that’s another key takeaway,” Jankowski said.

“It’s a Fijian specific project so it’s very great to have the top people here with me because they are the key persons to implement it in a real Fijian way. But I think it’s also been an inspiration for them to see the best practice within one probably one of the best academies in OFC and even probably Asia. So yeah, we hope with this inspiration, and with the help of our top people in Fiji, they can translate this back to our Fijian environment.” Jankowski added.

Photo Credit: OFC Media

A detail session with Kelly Cross, Technical Lead of Youth and FIFA High Performance Consultant at Sydney FC, proved very impactful for the Fijian staff.

Stories on how the academy programme has evolved, the club philosophy and the fundamentals that underpin the way the entire staff operate had FFA staff leaving with a with a new perspective on player development.

“A key message is definitely looking at the basics, one of the most important foundations. Then as Kelly said not to not to copy anything, keeping it authentic and keeping it in a Fijian way, is how we have to implement the learnings we’ve seen here,” an excited Jankowski said.

Photo Credit: OFC Media

FFA got to observe an A-League Men’s video review session, watch first team training and have a one-on-one Q&A with Sydney FC Men’s Head Coach, Ufuk Talay. They then rounded out an extremely demanding week, attending the A-League Women’s game between Western Sydney Wanderers and Canberra in Blacktown.

While the schedule was packed, OFC High Performance Consultant Dave Wright, was delighted with how the team applied themselves, representing Fiji with pride and engaging with key stakeholders from both clubs.

“The Fijian FA staff showed true application in an environment which perhaps (for some) was entirely new. They spoke about the importance of ‘seeing it to believe it’ and the huge impact it could have as they disseminate the stories of their visit to their colleagues back in Fiji,” said Wright.

Photo Credit: OFC Media

“Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers both provided a truly eye-opening opportunity for the staff of the Fijian FA. The openness and hospitality provided by both clubs ensured that the opportunity was exceptionally high value, providing not only inspiration, but real examples of what high performance and elite talent development environments look like.” Wright added.

Across the four days, Wright said it was clear that all FFA staff had learned some critical lessons, taking new knowledge with them back to Fiji that will significantly enhance the thinking, rigour, and quality of the Fijian FA National Academy Project.

While he’s optimistic that this trip will have significant impact on the development of football in Fiji. OFC’s High-Performance Consultant hopes it “set a precedent for MAs to engage with A-League clubs in the future. These kinds of visits can only be positive, enhancing understanding and raising awareness of what high performance looks like.”