Wednesday , May 29 2024

LALIGA’s project in Iraq one year on: a model of success and sustainability!

LALIGA and the Iraqi Embassy, in collaboration with the Iraqi Pro League Association and Casa Árabe, outlined the elements that have contributed to the success of the LALIGA project in Iraq at a conference held at Casa Árabe’s headquarters in Madrid, which also included representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, embassies from the MENA region, LALIGA clubs and other Spanish institutions and companies.

Moreover, the Iraqi Embassy in Spain sees the project as an outstanding example of the good relations between the two countries, stating that the growth and transformation of football in Iraq is a clear sign of the country’s stability and openness over recent years. This project will not only enhance cultural exchange but also play a pivotal role in driving economic and political development through its multi-faceted cooperation efforts.
During the conference, the speakers highlighted the unique approach that is yielding excellent results, underpinned by two directions of growth:

  1. Bottom-up refers to the building of a solid grassroots structure, with strong youth academies and talent development plans (young players being the main asset), youth competitions and quality training for coaches from these academies. Also fundamental to the plan is the focus on resources and facilities to be able to adequately develop talent. As such, elements from LALIGA’s Youth Academy Improvement and Optimisation Plan, within the BOOST LALIGA Plan, are taken as a model, which represents a milestone that seeks to consolidate Spain’s leading position in youth development.
  2. Top-down refers to a comprehensive transformation of the Iraqi professional league, based on LALIGA’s sustainable management model: the importance of infrastructure, the audiovisual product, use of technology, professionalisation of structures… in order to build up professional football so it can be a driving force for the industry and for social transformation.

The results? Among others, a new governance model, with innovations such as the creation of the Iraqi league as an independent legal entity or the creation of an organisational chart and Human Resources plan for its operation. The digital ecosystem of the Iraqi league has also been created, including social media, and marketing materials with the basis for attracting sponsors.

On the competition side, the launch in record time of a new professional football league with a conditional asymmetric calendar has achieved greater efficiency for the top flight competition: the Iraq Stars League. After an in-depth consultancy study, the difficulty was to make this calendar sustainable in order to maintain the league with 20 teams while considering the value of the competition in the medium-long term, and at the same time to overcome the challenge of the strong constraints to which the competition was exposed (extreme calendar compression, number of VARs available and teams sharing stadiums among others). Support has also been provided in the processes of player registration, licensing, stadium homologation and the creation of a new Competition Committee. Infrastructures are a fundamental part of the project, which is why assessments and studies of infrastructures and pitches have been carried out to work on achieving the standards of LALIGA stadiums.

Other landmarks include the implementation of a play-off and play-out, the latter working in conjunction with the play-off from the Iraq Premier League, the second division. This new feature adds to the competitiveness and attractiveness of the competition right up to the final matchdays, as well as a first link to future professionalisation of the Iraq Premier League. Furthermore, the creation of a new and innovative format for the Iraqi Cup 2024, which has already borne its first fruits with record attendance of more than 85.000 people in the round of 16 of the competition.

It’s also succeeded in establishing a foundation for the development of the clubs’ youth academies and has created new league and cup competitions for the lower categories, designed to feed the clubs with highly-talented professional players. This year, 1,500 of its future stars have already been officially registered in competitions across the three categories created (U20, U17 and U15). The plan also includes training courses for coaches centred around the LALIGA Methodology, which showcases the elements that make the youth academies of LALIGA clubs some of the best in the world.

LALIGA and the Iraq Football Association began their partnership in mid-2023, as part of a three-year project that represents a turning point for the development of football in the Gulf region. It’s an agreement to support the 360º development of football in Iraq which follows the sustainability model that LALIGA is known for around the world.

“The main objective is to accompany and support the transformation of football in the country using the LALIGA model, which is especially valued in the region due to its sustainability and focus on adding value to the clubs, while also promoting the professionalisation of football structures throughout the country in order to make them sustainable over time, both in business and sporting terms,” stated Javier Tebas, President of LALIGA.

Project development: keys to growth

The project is divided into three phases: a first phase of diagnosis and training; a second phase involving the creation of an action plan and its implementation; then finally a monitoring and supervision phase.

During that initial phase, intensive analyses of the football situation in Iraq and its potential were carried out. This identified Iraq’s capacity to become a leading league in its region and work then started down this path. During the first few months, in addition to the extensive analyses, several sessions were held with clubs, starting with a meeting with the President of LALIGA, Javier Tebas, to discuss the importance of their involvement in the project. Additionally, representatives of the Iraqi clubs had an immersion course with LALIGA in Madrid in September, during which they received training and workshops from various LALIGA departments. High-value training was provided at the event on matters such as the role of match directors, the keys to audiovisual protocol, the present and future of infrastructures in football and their distinctive role, and care of the pitch and turf, among other topics.

The most important recent achievement has been the creation of the Iraqi Youth League U20, a competition with a very innovative two-phase format: a regular season and knockout tournament, designed to optimise resources and maximise the competitive performance of the young players. More than 1,500 players and 31 teams have registered for the competition – 20 from the Iraq Stars League and 11 from the Iraq Premier League.
In the current phase of development work, different areas of improvement are being addressed with numerous advances, such as:

  1. Infrastructure: Emphasis on the development of both professional stadiums (such as turf maintenance and attendance management) as well as academies and high performance centres to support the framework for talent detection and development.
  2. Management: LALIGA wants to provide support so that the Iraqi league, as an independent entity, can adopt a system similar to LALIGA’s economic control and its model for closing sponsorship and audiovisual agreements.
  3. Talent Development: Training courses for coaches will continue (the next one will be held on April 19th, 20th and 21st, specifically for the 31 coaches in the Iraqi Youth League U20) and coaching camps with talented youngsters are also planned, both in Iraq and Spain. In fact, the agreement includes the provision for 3 full scholarships to allow talented young players from Iraq to receive comprehensive sports-academic training at the LALIGA Academy Madrid centre of sporting excellence.
  4. Technology: Different LALIGA departments together with Sportian, partners involved in the development of technological tools, are working on assessing which tools can help to achieve the project’s objectives. LALIGA Academy Manager, a management tool for youth teams and football academies, and Kit Selector, a tool for the coordination of kits in professional matches, are two of the tools that are being considered for implementation.

Although the Iraq project is one of the most ambitious, LALIGA works with on similar projects in many different countries through its International Department which has a network of more than 40 delegates and 11 offices around the world, covering more than 90 markets. Regarding sport, the foundation of our work is the LALIGA Methodology, which brings together common values, but is adapted and applied differently in each country, taking into account regional context, culture, way of life and work in football, strengths, areas for improvement, as well as paying comprehensive attention to each individual player.

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