NYON – The students taking an executive masters course at UEFA this year could field one of the best school teams ever seen.
After classes this week, Ballon d'Or recipient Kaka was joined on the field by Champions League winners Florent Malouda and Julio Cesar and an array of one-time national team stars. The action was intense and skillful on a chilly, wind-swept field at the European soccer body's headquarters.
Didier Drogba, though not playing, and Andriy Arshavin are also classmates for an 18-month education now in its third edition. The 2011 Champions League final referee, Victor Kassai, is on the team, too.
The course comprises blocks of classes in seven cities — six in Europe and a final March 2021 session in New York — to teach the stellar students about business, management and marketing.
The goal is to educate future presidents, CEOs and technical directors of clubs, businesses and national federations.
"Strong leaders and mentors to other people," said Stiliyan Petrov, who played more than 100 times for Bulgaria, and was also at UEFA to graduate with the previous course.
Known as the Executive Master for International Players (MIP), the course is already helping fast-track careers, and has a strong Brazilian flavor.
Former Brazil midfielders Rai, a 1994 World Cup winner, and Juninho Pernambucano graduated in 2017 from the first MIP and are now sporting directors of Sao Paulo and Lyon, respectively. Eric Abidal has a technical role at Barcelona.
Another 2017 alumna, Bianca Rech, recalls one-time star players being "totally different" personalities as students.
"You see these amazing players," said Rech, a former Germany defender. "(The ego) is gone when they are coming into the classroom. They are very open to this new role for them."
The course is challenging, designed with help from universities in France and England, plus the global players' union, FIFPro, and the European Club Association. The New York week includes meeting NBA and Major League Baseball executives, and studies labor rights and negotiations.
Starting the course this week, former Liverpool forward Emile Heskey said some students are nervous about taking an academic challenge.
Heskey, who left school at 16, said he did not feel ready when invited to start the first MIP course in 2015.
"I wouldn't say we were a lost generation but we could have done better with our time," Heskey said of his schooldays. "We have still got a long life ahead of us, so why not get involved with a course like this?"
Petrov said soccer players are more intelligent than their stereotyped image: "Yes, I believe so. You have to be smart. In today's football you can get in trouble very quickly. I think you have to develop in the right way."
All point to a sharing, cooperative atmosphere in class, and the start of a network of future industry leaders who can be more progressive.
Rech cites the image of European soccer leadership as often being an "old man business."
"But I think there is a change coming," the 38-year-old Bayern Munich executive said. "This group we are creating now will be so powerful, we really try to change and educate."