Gareth Jennings: The English youth coach swapping Stoke City for FIFA governance

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Stoke City's academy director Gareth Jennings tells Sky Sports News about his new forthcoming role at FIFA.

After almost three years at Stoke City, academy director Gareth Jennings is about to turn his life upside down.

FIFA came calling with a new role and, after a lengthy recruitment process, Jennings will take up the job of head of technical leadership programmes at the world governing body in June.

Prior to his appointment, Jennings had presided over successful spells at Leicester City and Stoke, where it was his belief that the whole purpose of an academy is to provide and prepare players for first-team football.

Stoke City's Tom Edwards (left) and Derby County's Tom Lawrence battle for the ball
Image: Stoke City's Tom Edwards (left) is among the youth players Jennings has brought through at Stoke

Stoke chairman Peter Coates once said to Jennings: "I'd like 11 Stoke lads in the first team."

Coates may have been half-joking, but Jennings ensured that seven academy prospects progressed to the senior side during his time at the West Midlands club, including Tyrese Campbell, Tom Edwards, Julien Ngoy and Harry Souttar.

FIFA has clearly seen something in the Englishman, and his move is a rarity; there are not too many coaches or technical directors who leave UK shores for FIFA HQ in Zurich.

Jennings' role is brand new too; no one has ever attempted to individually tailor technical programmes for 211 national associations before.

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He will work under Zvonimir Boban, FIFA's deputy secretary general, who is probably better known for his playing days at AC Milan and for Croatia. Nevertheless, this ambitious role under him has been entrusted to a son of Staffordshire.

General view of the FIFA logo seen at the entrance of the world football's governing body headquarters in Zurich
Image: Jennings will work at the world governing body's headquarters in Zurich

While Jennings has not yet begun at FIFA - he will remain at Stoke until the end of the season - he does want to take his 'Unique Selling Point (USP)' from his time at Stoke and Leicester with him.

"What is the purpose of developing young talent?" he asks. The answer? To play senior football.

Jennings sees little purpose from academies that exist in little more than name only, from which young players never progress. If he is going to help the FAs of China, Ghana, New Zealand, or even England, the development of young footballing talent towards senior football is key.

While the next stage of Jennings' career is with FIFA, he would not rule out a return to England in the future. He believes that, since the inception of St Georges Park in 2012, the FA is now at the forefront of player development. His evidence is the recent successes of the England U17, U19 and U20 teams, along with steady progression up the rankings for both the women's and men's senior teams.

Jennings also wants to continue to encourage young English players and coaches to "spread their wings". He believes both player and coach should look globally when looking at career pathways, because the clubs in England do just that.

Jadon Sancho and Graham Potter were examples he used; Sancho as a young player at Borussia Dortmund, who has recently earned his first cap under Gareth Southgate, and Potter who made his reputation as a coach in Sweden for eight seasons before returning to take over at Swansea City.

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