Frenchman Cedric Cattenoy on producing pros for the Chicago Fire, and the strengths and challenges of American youth soccer

Cedric Cattenoy became the Chicago Fire's Academy Technical Director in October 2016 after 15 years of work in Paris Saint-Germain's academy, which graduated more than 80 players to the pros during that time. Earlier this year, teenagers Andre Reynolds II and Gabriel Slonina became the Fire’s 12th and 13th Homegrown Player signings.

SOCCER AMERICA: When you arrived in the USA, was there anything that impressed you more than expected about American youth talent -- or any challenges you found bigger than expected?

CEDRIC CATTENOY: I was really impressed by the mentality of the players. They want to work hard to develop and to be better. In terms of challenges, I think the biggest one is the number of days that we are able to train. For example, in France, the standard for the number of training sessions is around six times per week. Here in the U.S. and in our academy, we train four or five times and it’s not enough. That something we have to fix.

SA: Now that you've been here for more than two years, what's your impression of the quality of coaching that young Americans get from American coaches? Anything you think that can be improved generally in how young Americans are coached?

CEDRIC CATTENOY: Speaking about our club, I recruited the staff for our Academy and I’m very happy because I found individuals who are good people and coaches with skills. They want to learn every day to be better with the players. Now, looking at the bigger picture, I think in the U.S. you have good coaches at the youth level, but I think that the better coaches should be working with the younger age groups. For example, from 8 to 12 is the golden age to develop players.

SA: France is obviously well known for its player development success. What aspects of the French model can work in the USA -- and what is unique about the USA that might make some aspects of the French model difficult to implement in the USA?

CEDRIC CATTENOY: In France, we have different stages in the development of the players. The first one is the football school from U-8 to U-12, the second one is the preformation from U-13 to U-15, the third is the formation from U-16 to U-18 and the last one is the post-formation from U-18 to U-20. You can apply this model in the U.S. for sure.

However, for the post-formation, it’s difficult in the U.S. because right now education and college are very important. You can lose a good player for four years without any control of his development. I think that’s a big difference between here and in France. In France, you maintain control of the player’s development from the beginning to the end.

SA: When we hear about players who are "produced" by a pro club's youth academy -- such as Moussa Dembele and Kingsley Coman coming out of the Paris Saint-Germain Academy when you were there -- how much credit goes to the academy vs. the talent they arrived with?

CEDRIC CATTENOY: Those two players had a lot of talent. When Kingsley Coman was 14 years old, his main quality was already his ability to beat every defender in the 1v1, combining technique and speed. For Moussa Dembele, his main quality was his finishing in front of the goal. He was able to score using his right foot, left foot and head. That was very impressive. To give you an example, when he was playing with the U-14s and U-15s, he scored around 40 goals per year. He had this natural ability to score goals. At PSG, we helped to develop both players, of course, but they joined us with a lot of talent.

SA: Do you make the ultimate decision on whether the Chicago Fire signs a player to a Homegrown contract, and how difficult is it to predict whether signing a pro contract at a young age is in the best interests of the club and the player? (For example, the Chicago Fire signed the 14-year-old Gabriel Slonina, the second youngest signing in league history, in March.)

CEDRIC CATTENOY: In our club we have a process in place. When we decide to offer a contract to a player, it’s the result of a collective agreement between the Academy staff, myself, the first team head coach Veljko Paunovic and our President Nelson Rodriguez. That was the case with Andre Reynolds II [signed at age 17 in January] and Gabriel Slonina. Concerning Gabriel, we wanted to show him that we believe in him and his potential. We have created a sporting plan for the next four years, so the path is clear for his development.

SA: What's your view on MLS clubs beginning to assert claims for Training Compensation and Solidarity Payments? Do you see this as an important move for the Chicago Academy program that you run?

CEDRIC CATTENOY: Yes, I think it’s a huge step for the league because all of the MLS clubs currently do a good job of trying to develop their players and you need to have training compensation to protect the clubs. In Chicago, we are glad to have this new rule because it’s like that everywhere else in the world. For example, in France you have training compensation between professional clubs and amateur clubs, as well.

SA: It's expensive to run a professional youth program, there's no guarantee that it pays off, and that money could go to acquiring pro-ready players. In other words, you can win championships without investing in a youth program, so why make the effort?

CEDRIC CATTENOY: When you are able to produce one or two players per year, you are going to develop the soul of the club. The players who are developed in the academy will have the spirit and the mentality of the club. For example, in our club we have some values and the players in our program should obtain and learn these values. It’s a long process. You have to spend money at the beginning, but the results will come later on.

SA: What do you feel about what you've accomplished so far since arriving at the Chicago Fire?

CEDRIC CATTENOY: I think we have done a good job with the staff. We signed two homegrown players and we have had 12 players called up to their national team. We have defined our game model and created our player development plan. We have a very good program to develop the players both on and off the field. It’s a holistic approach led by Brian Roberts, who spearheads our P.A.S.S. (Performance, Advisory and Support Services) program. You don’t have this approach in many places in the world. I’ve visited many academies in Europe, and the holistic approach that we have in our club is great.

SA: How will you judge whether the Chicago Fire's youth academy is a success five years from now?

CEDRIC CATTENOY: I hope that in five years we will be able to produce one or two players per year for the first team and they will get playing time. I hope that we will have two or three national team players per age group. If we can accomplish that in five years, we will be on the right path.

SA: What's your advice for coaches of players at the youngest ages?

CEDRIC CATTENOY: My advice for the coaches would be to focus more on the development of players than winning. I think you must think about player development before winning. I also think that the coaches should bring joy to the game when they teach the players. If the players have fun, they will develop quicker.

Photos: Chicago Fire Soccer Club

8 comments about "Frenchman Cedric Cattenoy on producing pros for the Chicago Fire, and the strengths and challenges of American youth soccer".
  1. Mike Lynch, May 2, 2019 at 6:28 p.m.

    Excellent interview Mike! Yes, more best coaches need to be with younger ages. Yes, scholastic sports in US are part of our fabric but don’t have to be a liability and if looked upon as an asset, could fit in within Cattenou’s formation stages. Then you have a club stealing and adopting best practices, not copying others. 

  2. frank schoon, May 3, 2019 at 9:49 a.m.

    It is all about Development and not winning. Alexanco,one of Cruyff's players at Barcelona who ran LaMarcia youth program at Barcelona, stated that the word 'winning" is never used but "good soccer".
    Xavi, who just retired from soccer yesterday, stated his desire to coach employing Cruyff's style of soccer. I would love to see Xavi come over to the MLS and further implant more "good soccer playing" into the DNA of our soccer development. It is the development and growth of good soccer DNA which will take time to seep into US development and become a dominant factor in how we will play.
    Meanwhile,  Development should be stressed over winning, I'm sorry to say as nobel as it sounds, coaches here are not judged on development but on wins and losses. That's the sad fact. Go to any soccer area in America and bring up a name of a "good" youth coach and you'll find his reputation is based on what he has accomplished, win-wise, not development-wise.  And it is those types of coaches who don't add anything the development side of the game. They see their succes in moving up in the coaching hierarchy at the cost of player development.
    We don't need licensed coaches when dealing with youth. Just look at the fantastic job we've have done sofar in player development with licensed coaches.  So after 50years, we still have a foreign coach stating the OBVIOUS ,although certainly not exactly a household concept in US soccer development which is Development over Winning, " I think you must think about player development before winning. I also think that the coaches should bring joy to the game when they teach the players. If the players have fun, they will develop quicker."  NEXT POST

  3. frank schoon, May 3, 2019 at 10:21 a.m.

    What Cedric stated about coaches should bring joy to the game when teaching players for when they have fun they will quicker....PERFECT.
    Cruyff stated when developing youth players there are two important concepts in play. In dutch it is "begeleiding" and "opleiding". Note the suffix , "leiding" , meaning to lead. Youth players need "begeleiding" which means to accompany, or guide. That description fits players who played at a good, high level or for example a good amateur player, not a licensed coach which Cruyff thinks is a bane to overal youth development. A player is not into coaching but developing, able to demonstrate the various techniques needed  at any moment in a game. He give tips and hints but doesn't really get involved in the overall process of the youth development, he sort of guides, that's it. He doesn't come across with "this is how you do it, you go there, don't do this, etc". He is more of 'go ahead and try and see if it works, don't worry about it if you lose the ball, just play and learn in a naturall manner and btw. sometimes try to look around more , or did you notice what Johnny did with the ball, etc". He allows the youth to experiment and learn through mistakes.
    "Opleiding" is more official and it applies to Coaching the kids when they are about 15/16 years old , for more tactics , theory, more structure, team oriented concepts,etc.
    In begeleiding  you don't need a licensed coach but  someone who can teach love of and for the game. He should history the history of the greats and able to tell anecdotes what they did with a ball. For example the great Ferenc Puskas who played for Real Madrid, was able to juggle a bar of soap while taken a shower. Even the great Gento and DiStefano couldn't believe what they saw. And most importantly the "Begeleider" needs to be technically very good for demonstrating, an ability the most licensed coaches lack. For example how many  coaches can demonstrate making a 40 yard cross field pass  on the dribble accurately to a player on the run. Kids RESPECT a "begeleider" who can talk with his feet , not  with the mouth , or laptop telling you what  exercise to do...

  4. Wooden Ships replied, May 3, 2019 at 10:36 a.m.

    Good stuff Frank as always and Chicago landed a wise one. I’d be courting Xavi to come across, like he was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen and couldn’t bare life without her. 

  5. frank schoon replied, May 3, 2019 at 11:33 a.m.

    Ships, wouldn't it be something to have Xavi, and some retired greats to come here. Hire him to go around the all the MLS teams and the midfieldrs the insights of his craft....

  6. frank schoon replied, May 3, 2019 at 11:35 a.m.

    Sorry, meant to say  to go around and teach the stuff and have seminars for American coaches teaching how to look at the game....I mean this guy would be virtual encyclopedia for American coaches

  7. Wooden Ships replied, May 3, 2019 at 1:38 p.m.

    It would Frank. Don’t see it happening with our level, or lack of, insight. Pay to play, results are in the way. Need to training/compensation to unseat the quo.

  8. frank schoon replied, May 3, 2019 at 2:52 p.m.

    Ships , 100%right !!

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