The Football Association of Wales will open their new £5 million national football academy next month in the hope that it will spur on the next generation footballers and produce more players of the calibre of a Gareth Bale, Ryan Giggs or Ian Rush.
Neil Ward, the CEO of the Welsh Football Trust told The Archer about his excitement as we move closer towards the opening of the facility.
“The official opening will be on the 20th of April with Michel Platini coming over and the First Minister coming to open the facility,” he said.
“The project has really been the product of a number of partnerships between ourselves, UEFA, FIFA, the Welsh Government and Sport Wales have been contributing and funding partners to the whole of the project so the 20th of April is really about celebrating bringing the project to fruition.”
The Welsh national academy, Dragon Parc, will be based in Newport and has been in development since 2011. Dragon Parc is estimated to cost around £5 million with football’s governing bodies UEFA and FIFA investing £2.6 million into the project.
“We’re pretty much on budget,” Ward said.
“There’s been no overspend. We’re still bringing the final budget together but we’ve been on track budget wise and we’ve delivered the project early as well so we’re delighted with that.”
The site will boast two premium standard grass pitches as well as an artificial third generation all-weather surface. Dragon Parc will also be situated next to the £23 million Welsh National Velodrome allowing for the Welsh national futsal team to operate on the same site.
But Dragon Parc’s main priority is focusing on elite development of both Welsh footballers and coaches.
“Our remit is essentially more players and better players so growing the game and raising standards through player identification and education,” Ward explained.
“The whole purpose of the facility is about the next generation of players and coaches. Inspiring the next generation of young players through our programmes and providing a production line of talent. That will benefit future international teams and Wales’ success in the future, hopefully, and of course developing the next generation of coaches who will be an important part of developing those players.”
While Dragon Parc is aimed at elite players, Ward hopes that Welsh football’s new home will also be able to inspire a new breed of grassroots footballers as well.
“We have a partnership with the Welsh Schools’ FA around the U-16 squad for the boys and they are involved in helping to support the talent identification process,” Ward said.
Dragon Parc’s purpose is to inspire the grassroots too, as very much the home of Welsh football.
“It’s the place of destination for those who aspire to be the best at what they can be so whether they are a coach or a player, we’ll be running the national courses and coaching courses out of here. Obviously this includes the talent programmes which start at U-16 boys and girls through to the national A team and we now have the national team for learning disabilities as well. It’s really about helping those with the best talent whether they’re a coach or a player to fulfil their potential and develop future success for Wales on the international stage.”
In order to help the next generation of footballers along with their development, Wales’ national team coach, Chris Coleman, will be involved in the coaching sessions with both players and coaches. In much the same way Roy Hodgson has operated for the English national team at England’s St. George’s Park.
“Chris Coleman will be part of it,” Ward said.
“The pitches aren’t quite ready because the pitches were laid towards the end of last summer and need two growing seasons. We’re hopeful that the premium grade pitch will be able to be open and we’ll have a session on that people can see. We’re hoping to have the pitches up and running by the end of May to use.”
At a cost of £5 million, a relatively small sum in football terms, Dragon Parc could represent some of the best investment into Welsh football in years if it can achieve its aim of producing more world class players and coaches in years to come.
With the current crop of young players doing so well and many more hopefully in the pipeline thanks to Dragons Parc, Welsh football has never looked brighter.