Every moment of every match at the 2023 FIFA U-17 World Cup was watched live, in person, by a member of the FIFA Technical Study Group (TSG).
The TSG’s responsibilities include identifying and analysing technical, tactical, and physical trends as they emerge, nominating the Player of the Match for each game, and selecting the winners of the adidas Golden Ball award.
For the 2023 edition, the TSG is made-up of four technical experts: former Swiss international Pascal Zuberbühler, Wales senior women’s national team head coach Gemma Grainger, former Paraguay international Julio Gonzalez and former Senegal international Pape Thiaw.
The FIFA U-17 World Cup is a biannual tournament – turning into an annual tournament from 2025 – designed to give players aged seventeen and under the opportunity to play in a high-stakes tournament on the international stage.
First held in 1985, the tournament has become known for developing future world class players and has given the world their first glimpse of superstars such as Andres Iniesta, Ronaldinho, and Alessandro Del Piero, among many other luminaries.
According to the TSG, the FIFA U-17 World Cup plays a crucial role in the development and identification of young players.
“The FIFA U-17 World Cup is a very important tournament as it lays the groundwork for players to reach the top level,” said Thiaw, who played in the FIFA World Cup 2002.
“Firstly, the tournament allows youngsters to get into competition mode. As part of their development, they get a taste of major tournaments and gain experience against various teams, allowing them to grow faster.
“At U-17 level we’re preparing the players: it’s about football development and trying to implement things. Through the FIFA U-17 World Cup we start to add a competitive component to it, to make sure that they can express their talent despite their youth.”
By allowing players to experience a high-stakes tournament and play against international standard opposition, the tournament gives players an early taste of life as a professional international footballer.
Additionally, the FIFA U-17 World Cup takes players through a demanding qualification campaign: taking players out of their comfort zone and forcing them to adapt to unfamiliar scenarios including travel, accommodation, different cultures, away crowds, and time zone adjustments.
These are all regular parts of life for senior international players and by experiencing this at a youthful age, gives players a vital developmental growth spurt.
Gonzalez, who played in a FIFA U-20 World Cup early in his career, agreed that the U-17 World Cup provides a significant boost to a player’s future.
“In terms of growth and development of footballers, the tournament is essential,” said Gonzalez.
“These kids are U-17 players. Many haven’t even left their countries to play a football match before, so to experience this, playing international matches against other national teams, grants these players a unique and marvellous experience. This cannot be compared to any other tournament.”
With the tournament providing so many benefits to players, there was a welcome reaction globally when it was announced that the FIFA U-17 World Cup would turn into an annual tournament in 2025, moving from its current standing as a biannual event.
“The U-17 level is an important age for a young footballer who is building their career. After extensive consultation and studying, FIFA made the decision that we must have the FIFA U-17 World Cup every year,” said Zuberbühler, who played at the FIFA World Cup 2006.
In Gonzalez’s opinion, the trickle-down effects of an annual tournament could have a greater impact beyond simply the players who make the final tournament squads.
“An annual FIFA U-17 World Cup could change the development of football completely. It could make a significant difference throughout the world, for every kid who is developing and growing as a player” Gonzalez concluded.