Le Centre Technique National Fernand Sastre (English: Fernand Sastre National Technical Centre), commonly referred to as INF Clairefontaine ("Institut national du football de Clairefontaine"), INF, or simply Clairefontaine, is the national football centre that specializes in training French football players. The academy is one of twelve élite academies located in and around France that are supervised by the French Football Federation (FFF). Only the best players from the Île-de-France région train at the Clairefontaine academy. The eleven other academies are situated in Castelmaurou, Châteauroux, Liévin, Dijon, Marseille, Ploufragan, Vichy and Reims, Réunion, Saint-Sébastien-sur-Loire, and Talence.
Clairefontaine opened in 1988 and is named after Fernand Sastre, the president of the FFF from 1972–1984. The academy is located 50 km southwest of Paris at Clairefontaine-en-Yvelines and is one of the best known football academies in the world. It has a high reputation of producing some of the most gifted French players including Nicolas Anelka, Louis Saha, William Gallas, Hatem Ben Arfa, Abou Diaby, Sebastien Bassong, Mehdi Benatia, and national team top scorer Thierry Henry. The academy is also used to house the national football teams of France and the centre drew media spotlight following its usage as a base camp by the France team that won the 1998 FIFA World Cup.
In 1976, French Football Federation president and longtime official Fernand Sastre desired for the creation of a national centre of football. The project was initiated by Ștefan Kovács, who was inspired by the former Romanian communist training centers. Six years later, the FFF selected Clairefontaine-en-Yvelines as the site of the center. Construction of the centre commenced in 1985 and lasted nearly three years. The centre opened its doors in January 1988. During the 1998 World Cup, which France hosted, Clairefontaine housed the French national team. That same year, the FFF named the centre in Fernand Sastre's honor. A bust of Sastre was put on the grounds in 2000; also present on the grounds is a statue of the FIFA World Cup.
The best young football players from the Île-de-France region (of which Paris is the capital) stay at Clairefontaine from 13 to 15 for training and development of their technical skills. Most of the players that attend here are often being tracked by established French clubs and go on to have very successful careers. Today, many top local clubs play at the grounds. The academy continues to develop some of France's most promising talents in Mehdi Benatia, Hatem Ben Arfa, Vassiriki Abou Diaby and Gabriel Obertan.
In order for a player to be selected to the Clairefontaine academy, he/she must be at least 13 years of age, have French citizenship, and be living and playing within the Île-de-France region, though players living in the departments of Seine-Maritime and Eure can also apply and be selected. Registration for new players at the academy normally begins in October the year before players enroll at the academy when prospective applicants are 12 years of age. Players have until December to register with their club for acceptance into the academy. The first set of trials are carried out by each district within Île-de-France. Each district selects a set number of players who will traveled to Clairefontaine to attend a tryout, which is usually held over a three-day period during the Easter school holidays. After the three days, the academy director and officials will convene to select a maximum of 22 players with three or four of the 22 being goalkeepers.
Training and accommodation
Players who are selected to attend Clairefontaine stay and train at the facilities from Monday through to Friday. Players are given the weekend off to visit family and train and play with their parent clubs. They are also given school holidays off. Players are also required to meet educational criteria. Players age 13–15 training at Clairefontaine attend the Collège Catherine de Vivonne de Rambouilet in Rambouillet. After departing Rambouilet, players enroll at the nearby high school Lycée Louis Bascan de Rambouillet with hopes that they will earn their Baccalauréat. All costs required to attend an academy are borne by the federation and the Ligue Nationale de Football.
Youth development at Clairefontaine incorporates many principles on football with their students, such as:
- Making the player’s movements faster and better
- Linking movements efficiently and wisely
- Using the weaker foot
- Weaknesses in the player’s game
- Psychological factors (sports personality tests)
- Medical factors
- Physical tests (beep test)
- Technical skills
- Skill training (juggling the ball, running with the ball, dribbling, kicking, passing and ball control)
- Tactical (to help the ball carrier, to get the ball back, to offer support, to pass the ball and follow the pass, positioning and the movement into space)
Clairefontaine is an immense football centre, encompassing 56 hectares of land and boasting 66,000 square meters of turfed grounds. It is located in the valley of Chevreuse in the heart of the Rambouillet forest. Clairefontaine has several training grounds, a stadium pitch and even an indoor pitch made of artificial turf. The centre also includes a medical building, gym, fitness room, restaurant and cafeteria. There are even three tennis courts on the grounds.
Notable former students
- Hayward, Paul (2000-12-08). "The French Connection". Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
- "Mihir Bose: Inside Clairefontaine". BBC. 2008-02-25. Retrieved 2012-07-23.
- "Football : opération commando à Clairefontaine". Lemonde.fr. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
- Hayward, Paul (2001-02-14). "FA sow seeds of prized crop". Telegraph. Retrieved 2013-08-15.
- "Les conditions d'inscription". French Football Federation. 6 November 2010. Retrieved 20 November 2010.