As Chief Football Development Officer at CONCACAF, Jason Roberts uses his wealth of experience on the pitch to pave the way for the future of football.
He drives the Confederations plans across education, women’s football and professionalisation, making a true difference to the game.
We caught up with him to hear about his impressive career…
Where did your love for football come from?
I was born with a football in my lap because I was very fortunate to come from an extremely sporty family. My uncle Cyrille Regis was one of the first black players to play for England, my uncle Dave followed in his footsteps and played in the Premier League, then on the other side of the family, my uncle Otis Roberts played in Hong Kong and Belgium.
My love for football is a generational thing, sport is what my family do, and my love of football was from birth.
Do you think part of your success came from trying to make your sporting family proud?
I think it’s definitely a drive to do it! When you have people so close to you who’ve achieved incredible international honours, you believe you’re capable of doing it too.
The advice and inspiration I got from them meant that I was fortunate, and I am in no doubt that without their influence around me, my ability alone would not have taken me to where I was fortunate enough to end up.
Do you have a favourite memory from your playing career?
All of my experiences were part of my journey, I started at amateur level and played in every single league before I got to the Premier League.
My time at Wigan Athletic with Nathan Ellington was special, getting them promoted to the Premier League. They went on and won the FA Cup and a great legacy was built with Dave Whelan, Roberto Martinez and Paul Jewell, my manager.
My time at West Bromwich Albion was also special, my uncle Cyrille also played there, so to represent that club felt like a bit of my family history. The club have treated my family so well since the passing of my uncle, they will always be special to me.
Why did you decide to complete the UEFA MIP programme and what did you gain from it?
I was part of the first cohort, and it was interesting because there was a collection of individuals who had achieved incredible things on the football pitch, but were transitioning into new phases of their lives.
You could feel the vulnerability in the room, people not being sure about the direction they were going in for potentially the first time in their lives. We built a camaraderie and I see many of my cohort as my best friends.
It was amazing to see everyone dedicating themselves to education, and then going off and being successful in administrative, technical or leadership roles.
Did you find it difficult to transition to a career off the pitch?
I had inspiration around me to be a footballer, but none of that translated to when football ends. It can be very scary when that day comes.
I had wonderful advice from my loved ones who directed me into doing something that suited my skill set. I’ve been very happy with what I’ve achieved so far.
You’re now the Chief Football Development Officer at CONCACAF, what does that role entail?
My role oversees the technical development of the whole of the Confederation, which is 41 different member associations in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.
We also focus on the professionalisation of the game through club licensing and professional programming.
We focus on the development of the women’s game within the region as well as the social responsibility of the Confederation.
Do any parts of your role stand out to you, which part of your work has the most impact?
We know that sport can have a transformative impact on those that are involved in it, whilst there can only be one winner in many cases, that doesn’t mean that we can’t use football to invest in people.
We reach people that are hard to reach, bringing people out of poverty through education and employment.
There’s a larger context to football when you’re talking about a diverse region. The true outcome is how many people’s lives we can change through access to our fantastic sport. Football is a vehicle for social change.
What experiences have you had this year, during a busy summer in football?
I was lucky enough to be in Australia for the Women’s World Cup and watching the likes of Jamaica and Haiti performing at the level that they have was extremely inspiring because we know that there’s been barriers behind access to sport for women, and especially within our region.
CONCACAF can boast that we have the most World Cups due to the success of the women’s USA team and we can boast about the success of the Canadian women’s team, but I think there’s so much more growth and opportunity within our region for women.
We all are excited about the opportunities and the launch of our W Gold Cup, that is really going to be testament to our investment in the women’s game. In addition to that, the professionalisation of the game in the Caribbean, we have a huge amount of talent within the region.
It shouldn’t matter where you’re born in regards to being spotted as a talent, whether you were born under the shadow of Old Trafford or whether you were born in a jungle in Central America, there should be an opportunity for your talent to be identified, spotted and developed.
Tell me about the Jason Roberts Foundation and the work that you do there?
I started the foundation back when I was 26 years old to give something back to my community. I come from one of the toughest communities in London, a place called Stonebridge estate in Northwest London.
Football was everything to a majority of my friends growing up, especially as the first generation born in the UK from the Windrush era. So to be able to have a facility now, as we do in Northwest London with a pitch and classrooms and podcast suites among other things to inspire the next generation is something that I’m very, very proud of.
Without the buying of the community and the volunteer networks that we work with and the people who dedicate themselves to this program it wouldn’t be possible.
October is the start of Black History Month, how important do you think it is to celebrate this?
It’s important for us to recognise the challenges that many have faced and continue to face from our communities, but also to celebrate wonderful stories of success, which have come out of our community and to inspire other people.
The outcome is to bring people together and talk about how we can continue to work together to make things better. I think it’s an absolute positive, because I do believe that this is about collaboration, it is about people finding ways to support other projects so that we can have sustainable development.
Do you think it’s important for players to still be involved in the game post their playing career?
I think every individual will have a different journey. I think mostly what you will find is people who have dedicated themselves to their sport will always want to give something back to that sport.
I think that it’s important that we find more opportunities for players, but there’s also an element of, of education, understanding that there are elements to the game that you may not fully grasp just because you played the sport.
It’s important to educate, to invest in yourself, once you can do that with your knowledge of what you’ve experienced as a player, then you can bring something unique to any conversation about the sport.
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