Clairefontaine: France’s Elite Football Academy


In Northern France, about an hour outside
Paris, lies the central nervous system of the French football machine. Buried in the
plush green woods of the Rambouillet Forest, the Institut national du football de Clairefontaine,
or simply INF Clairefontaine, is perhaps the most celebrated national football academy
in the world. Clairefontaine is responsible for refining
and perfecting the technical and tactical acumen of players like Thierry Henry, Louis
Saha, Medhi Benatia, Nicolas Anelka, William Gallas, Hatem Ben Arfa, Abou Diaby, Olivier
Giroud, Blaise Matuidi, and the recent crown jewel of
the program, PSG’s Kylian Mbappe. There were 50 players born in France representing
various nations at the 2018 World Cup, an astounding figure that demonstrates the scope
of France’s ability to produce football players. But how did the French perfect the
concept of player development? How has this country continuously produced the most exciting,
powerful, technical, and tactically smart players on the planet? Quite simply, by developing the best individuals
for the benefit of the team. The brainchild of former French Football President
Fernand Sastre and head coach Stefan Kovacs, Clairefontaine has housed the French National
Team since 1988, and was the base camp for the 1998 World Cup winning side. Kovacs, a Romanian born ethnic Hungarian,
and the only foreigner to ever coach the French national side, was inspired by the communist
training centres of his homeland, rigid camps where individual skill
was obsessively honed for the good of the collective. At its most basic level, Clairefontaine is
a regional academy for boys from the Paris suburbs,an area that has consistently produced
incredibly talented footballers. Boys aged 13-15 from the Ile-de-France region apply
for the program, with 23 being selected each season. The players stay at Clairefontaine throughout
the week and return to their local sides to play matches on the weekend. The philosophy at Clairefontaine begins with
individual technical perfection; being able to turn quickly, improving your weaker foot,
and tactical decision-making. The students are put through the paces in highly-specific
and regimented drills before ever touching a full-sized pitch. But French Football is less concerned with
a larger playing philosophy (unlike, say Barcelona’s La Masia) and more focused on individual player
development. While all the youth teams play in a 4-3-3, the emphasis is on creating the
best individual players in relation to the team. Jean-Claude Lefargue the director of
the program, told The Telegraph in 2018 that French coaches
are starting to embrace the philosophy of Clairefontaine: “All the coaches of the professional clubs
come through Clairefontaine. Over the years we have been able to convince them of the
philosophy, about what they have to find in a player. And so we have started to have this
common idea across France. It takes time to convince others, to train the coaches, but
little by little we have all started to do the same thing.” When Lefargue refers to a “philosophy”
he is talking about player development, not tactics. Lefargue and Clairefontaine produce incredibly
astute players that are tactically malleable and technically proficient, able to play whatever
role their are assigned. Kylian Mbappe’s presence on the right wing for France in 2018
and PSG at times is an example of this philosophy in action.
There is a sort of ironic simplicity in this philosophy, to produce the best individuals
for the good of the collective, and Lefargue explained the idea to The Telegraph: “I use the example of an actor. An actor
has to play the best role possible, but only according to the role he has. If it is a sad
role, he has to be sad. In a match, it is the same thing. If you have a really good
actor, you cannot just give him a small role. You have to make more of him.” The French National side has played very different
styles over the course of the last 30 years, perhaps best evidenced by their international
double at World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000. In 1998, the French were cautious and solid,
with the much-maligned striker Stephane Guivarc’h not getting on the scoresheet all tournament
(much like Olivier Giroud 20 years later). At the World Cup, the French relied on the
individual brilliance of Zinedine Zidane and their defensive backline of Lillian Thuram,
Marcel Desailly, Frank LeBouef and Bixente Lizarazu. Two years later, France had Nikolas Anelka
and Thierry Henry, two Clairefontaine graduates and two of the finest strikers of the era,
leading the line, and romped to the title based off their superior speed, power, and
technique. In the span of two years, France’s footballing
actors were able to put forth two stylistically polar productions, but both ended in silverware. When compared to the Dutch or Italians, there
is no real “French football philosophy,” besides creating the most technically precise,
quick, strong, and tactically astute players. Nevertheless, a tension between playing philosophies
characterized much of modern French football.
As Michael Cox writes in his book Zonal Marking, “Post-war French Football was effectively
a battle between two contrasting ideologies, one that favoured physicality and hard work,
and the other that placed emphasis on technique and style.” One must look no further than the 2018 World
Cup-winning double pivot of N’Golo Kante and Paul Pogba to see these two supposedly
contrasting ideologies working in perfect harmony. The Clairefontaine model has now been copied
throughout the world, even La Masia can learn from Lefargue’s program as he proudly stated,
“La Masia came here a long time ago. We have the same philosophy. Not necessarily
the pass for a pass, but working for the collective.” England’s St George’s Park has been largely
based off the Clairefontaine development model. With a talented new generation coming through,
England is starting to reap the benefits of these ideas. The French football machine has shown its
ability to produce a neverending procession of Golden Generations since Clairefontaine’s
inception. They are perhaps the greatest modern footballing country, armed with a simple philosophy
based on producing the best possible players. If football is a game of actors, the world
is truly a stage for French football.

83 thoughts on “Clairefontaine: France’s Elite Football Academy

  1. Clairefontaine, Ajax Academy and La Masia. The closest this world will ever achieve to Beauxbatons, Durmstrang and Hogwarts. The places where the magic begins.

  2. The USA should copy France. We have the best athletes in the world, and if we could just develop a few of our athlete we would dominate international soccer.

  3. It's another brilliant video on something that I didn't even know I was curious about. Thank you so much, you;'re the definition of quality

  4. I think it would be interesting to do a video on how there are less purely creative midfielders in this generation as the game has returned to being more pressing and more physical. This generation has dew players in the mould of xavi or pirlo and those that exist like de bruyne or tonali are able to play because their all round game is also strong. Probably similar idea to your video on why there are fewer no.10s these days

  5. this is why south american national teams only stand a chance if they rely on european clubs to form their players

  6. The ironic thing about TRUE artists is that they say a lot of shit that doesn't make sense to normal people but only to themselves with the intent to simplify an explanation, when in true sense it does the complete opposite. Case scenario: Jean-Claude Lefargue saying, "If it is a sad role, he (actor) has to be sad. In a match, It is the same thing. If you have a really good actor, you cannot just give him a small role you have to make more of him".

  7. "Little by little, we have all started to do the same thing" is a horrible quote and a sinister philosophy. This whole video has an underlying message of praise for communist ideas and ideologies. Stop it.

  8. If every country built a world class academy then went with those players in the world cup there would be carnage but I guess some countries can never really do it!

  9. tapping the talent pool of an entire continent (africa) has certainly bolstered the no# of elite players in France's national team. Non-colonial nations can't really compete with this.

  10. France have come a long way in the last 10 years. Who could forget their exceptional poor show in South Africa? That was the catalyst for change.

  11. 1998 defence is not made with Frank Leboeuf but Laurent Blanc. Frank Leboeuf only played the final (and 3rd group match cause France was already qualified at 1st place) because Blanc was sent off against Croatia

  12. France wouldn’t be anywhere without the immigrants that form the lower class and have kids that hone their talent by kicking it from dusk until dawn. African countries would be behemoths on the world stage if they had the proper infrastructure to nurture talents.

  13. Man… That 2000 Euro 22 man squad is crazily invincible. All of them are having "club legend" as their lowest resume (except one player). The most complete roster in international football champions ever.

  14. This is based upon more so on french clubs need to sell and so create adaptable players. Would I put clairefontaine above la masia or ajax academy? Probably not.

  15. Algeria are starting to copy the Clairefontaine model,they are creating regional centres models in the same principales as Clairefontaine

  16. This era of French players is absolutely phenomenal. Players like Benzema and Lacazette don’t even make it into the squad

  17. Juan Manuel Torres  England's setup at St.Georges' park at the start of the last decade is quite impressive. The results in the age group tournaments in the last few years show that their efforts are beginning to bearing fruit.

    However, the talent in England is handicapped by the fact that not many sides in the top flight are able to give youngsters adequate and regular gametime. It is here that other major European leagues are particularly stand out.

  18. And in Romania we have this academy in every city, that s why we have hagi, popescu and more, but after the fallen of communism, this academy goes to people who destroy and make supermarkets, hotels, and many more on that land. Not invested in academy.

  19. Can you make a transfer video about psv Eindhoven they have a really bad year and need a lot of good quality players

  20. What's going on as t Atletico why are they struggling to keep up with Madrid and Barca. Why do they struggle to buy players that fit in their system?

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