Individuals representing some of the burgeoning talent from clubs across Europe have gathered this week in Lisbon for an intensive course as part of the second edition of ECA’s Club Talent & Mentoring Programme (CTMP).

Twenty-five participants from at least 16 different nationalities and representing 23 ECA Member Clubs, were selected to form the second cohort of the CTMP. They met for sessions at the Estadio da Luz/Benfica Stadium and the Nova Business School.

A graduation ceremony capped off the week in Portugal, with the ambitious young executives continuing their blended learning with follow-up sessions online and by working closely with an assigned mentor for the forthcoming year.

Sara Williams, ECA Knowledge and Education Manager, said: “The ECA Club Talent & Mentoring Programme is a bespoke educational programme aimed at empowering the next generation of football club leaders to create real impact at their clubs and ultimately, the future of European club football.

“The CTMP is for driven, passionate but busy young club professionals, seeking a compact and dynamic learning and professional development opportunity. It will help further their careers, extend their network and develop a deep understanding of what it takes to run a successful football club. This programme is just one example of how we can create impact by supporting the brightest talents to become the leaders of tomorrow.”

The course received a thumbs-up from those present, who can now take key learnings back to their clubs. Nathan Santos, Legia Warsaw Partnership Activities Manager, summed it up by saying: “It's been an amazing course. I really enjoyed it and the passion of the teachers who have given us the knowledge to not only elevate the club but ourselves personally.

“There are things which will help our club develop further, change our thought processes and the way things work and the way things fit together. As they told us, ‘Winning should be a consequence of a steady working strategy’,” he concluded.

The CTMP, launched in 2022, provides a pathway for the development of identified talent within a club’s management and administrative staff. It gives an opportunity to club professionals to expand their knowledge, develop key skills, build their professional network and learn from the best in the business.

The blended learning programme is intended to be unique and dynamic in its approach, with a focus on developing, promoting, and inspiring emerging talent. The CTMP is aimed at providing the skills, know-how and professional networking opportunities needed to succeed in club leadership positions. These foundations will support club professionals as they navigate through the complexities of an ever-changing club environment.

The week in Lisbon saw participants engage in a range of topics, and by the end they had:

  • Addressed contemporary challenges inherent to European club football while obtaining a comprehensive understanding of crucial areas within football club operations and management.
  • Expanded their professional network, enjoyed exclusive access to influential industry figures and connected with passionate and knowledgeable peers from football clubs across Europe.
  • Pushed boundaries, cultivated confidence, embraced new challenges, and acquired the skills and knowledge essential for taking up future leadership roles and creating impact within the club and wider football industry.

Ross Cullinane, Chief Operating Officer of Shamrock Rovers, was one of the cohort and picked out highlights such as confidence in speaking to leadership, and crisis management but also “the network of people we met from different clubs.”

That was echoed by Mariam Khachatryan, General Secretary at Armenian club Sardarapat FC, who said: “The topics are really well designed and have a logical connection with each other. The course not only helped to develop me personally but also help us think how we can use that knowledge later when we go back to our clubs.”

A slightly different perspective came from Ricardo Van Rhijn from AFC Ajax, one of several ex-players at the Dutch club moving into an off-pitch role. He said one of the key takeaways was asking the right questions. “I think that is the most valuable lesson I will bring to the club.

As a former player, I believe I am a connector and I want to have a connection between off the pitch matters and those on the pitch and sometimes that gap is still quite big. It is partly also about the different perspectives of departments who have their own vision, but you all represent the same club,“ added the former Ajax player.

The CTMP2 graduates were joined on Friday by the Club Management Programme (CMP) 3 cohort who took the opportunity to meet up in Lisbon and celebrate their graduation in person having previously had only an online ceremony.