Major League Soccer
Chicago's Academy Director Shares His Vision With ASN
December 01, 2016
THE CHICAGO FIRE suffered through another rough year, finishing last in the Eastern Conference for the second straight season. The club, however, is pursuing a youth movement and this fall made a surprising announcement when it hired Cedric Cattenoy to run its academy.
Cattenoy, 45, arrives in Chicago with a very impressive resume, having most recently served at the academy of Paris St. Germain where he eventually became head coach of the Academy in 2014.
MLS teams like FC Dallas have demonstrated benefit of having a strong academy and the hiring of Cattenoy is a strong statement by the Fire—a franchise that has not reaped the benefits of the league's homegrown player policies.
“Cedric’s services were coveted by several other organizations around the world, yet he chose to join the Fire and help our academy become a significant part of our championship program,” Fire general manager Nelson Rodríguez said. “Not only considered a great teacher of the game by players, he is also an effective and devoted mentor to other coaches. He embodies our values of humility, competitiveness, and respect.
"Securing Cedric as the leader of our academy is a coup for all of soccer in Chicagoland.”
Now Cattenoy will be working closely with first-team head coach Veljko Paunovic who recently completed his first season and has been adamant about his desire to feature top young talent.
American Soccer Now sat down with the Frenchman to discuss his vision for the Fire in the unique atmosphere of youth development in the United States.
ASN: With your resume, you must have had a lot of options after leaving PSG. Why did you take this job? What did it offer you?
Cattenoy: As you know, I spent 15 years at PSG but I wanted to work in another country and learn another culture. I am 45 years old. I thought that it was the good moment to have another experience. Last season in April, I started to look for a new project in a foreign country. I had many offers from different countries.
The offer from Chicago was the best because with a population of 11 million people and soccer growing in the U.S. I felt that it was the right place to go to develop young American players.
Before accepting the academy director position, I had many discussions with Nelson Rodriguez and I liked his vision. We were on the same page on how we want to develop the Chicago Fire Academy. I knew the soccer context in Chicago because I came many times here when I was in charge of the technical partnership [between PSG] and the Chicago Magic.
ASN: What are the next steps for you in developing the Fire's Academy?
Cattenoy: I have two goals for our academy. The first one is to develop players for the first team. We must have in the next years several players from the academy playing for the first team.
The second one is that the Chicago Fire Academy must have the strongest presence in player development. That reputation must shine in the United States. We have to be ambitious. Chicago Fire academy must be one of the best academies in the country inside of the next few years. To reach those goals, I need to have an experienced technical staff with me. I also need time and support from the general manager [Nelson Rodríguez], which I know I have.
ASN: What are some of the specific elements you want to put into place?
Cattenoy: I will use the same philosophy here, but I have to adapt my philosophy within the context of our team and the soccer landscape in Chicago. The development of players will be based on a five-axis system. Those axises are inter-related, and each is important.
The first axis is the cognitive aspect. The second is the mental aspect. After that you have the tactical aspect, the technical aspect, and the physical aspect. When you develop a player, you cannot say, "I want to develop a player technically and tactically." You have to develop the whole.
I would also like each academy team to play the same way with a style based on possession in order to control the game and allow maximum opportunity for development. I want to have individuality within a strong collective. For me, it is very important for all our players to compete for the badge before themselves. Additionally, when you play well and when you have possession of the ball, you have more of a chance to win the game. That's not always true, but most of the time when you have a majority of the possession you have more of a chance to win.
For development purposes, it is also very important to build from the back. If the philosophy is to play with a lot of long-balls and you are a midfielder, it is very difficult to develop your ability. That is also why you need to play with possession.
ASN: Velkjo Paunovic won the 2015 U-20 World Cup coaching Serbia and he wants to work with young players. Given his approach and your role within the team, it seems like the Fire want to be a youthful team. What has been your initial interactions with Velkjo?
Cattenoy: I am very lucky. I spent 15 years at PSG and the [interactions] with the head coach were very rare. At PSG, I knew a lot of coaches but all the time on one side of the club you had the pro team and on the other side you had the academy. With the Chicago Fire, we work together in the same building. Pauno's office is close to mine. We have a lot of discussions together and for Pauno the academy is very important. He knows a lot about player development after his experience with the U-20 Serbian team.
ASN: What has been your impression of the typical young American player who comes from outside of a football/soccer dominated culture? What do you see the potential here?
Cattenoy: There is a difference. Firstly, in France, soccer is number one and there is nothing close. From a young age, you play soccer and you watch soccer on television. Secondly that at young age the understanding of the game and the technique of a young player in France is way higher than here in the United States.
On the other hand the work ethic of the young American players is higher and better. They all want to work hard, they all want to improve, and they all want to be better. The will to improve is way bigger than in France. With the right practices and training, I believe the United States could become one of the biggest countries in the world in terms of soccer.