Irishman laid foundations for Italy progress but his structures are being dismantled already soon after his exit
Stephen Aboud says all that was missing from his first meeting with the former president of the Italian Rugby Federation over seven years ago was the theme music from The Godfather.
After deciding to leave his job with the IRFU in 2016, which spanned several roles, including elite player and coach development over a 26-year period, the former Italian Rugby Federation president Alfredo Gavazzi, who died last year, flew to Dublin, meeting Dubliner Aboud in a suite in the Gresham Hotel.
Gavazzi proceeded to write on a linen napkin the job description he wanted Aboud to take on – to develop underage rugby. Aboud signed the linen napkin, he shook hands with Gavazzi and that’s how it came about that he got immersed in Italian rugby.
Aboud spent nearly six years working as head of technical direction for the development of players and coaches in Italy and oversaw the establishment of the acclaimed U-17 to U-20 structures and academies.
However, when Marzio Innocenti was elected the new president of the FIR in 2021, the Irishman knew his time there would come to an end. While he had a goal to reinforce his work to 2027, his contract with Italian rugby finished in June 2022.
Aboud believes the effects of the dismantling of the underage structures he and his team put in place can already be seen.
“I would say now that the U-20 squad that’s currently playing is probably lacking 50 per cent of the opportunity to develop that their predecessors had. And within two years, it will be 100 per cent. It’s not emotional, it’s just a fact,” Aboud told the Left Wing podcast.
“I develop systems that give you a return on investment if it’s the right systems and the right people. And if you shut those down, it’s going to have an effect. And you can see it already, unfortunately.
“The U-20s – you see it in their performance, you can see they’ve lost two matches they could have won because the attitude was there, the commitment was there, but the precision and effectiveness, which you would get from development, is not.”
The Italy senior men’s team seem to be on an upward trajectory ahead of their Six Nations game with Ireland in Rome on Saturday. After beating Wales and Australia last year, they went close to beating France in Round 1 earlier this month. But Aboud is concerned about the long-term future.
“It has the players and it has the players for the next four, five years because they’re on an average age of between 22 and 24. If they stay fit, they will arrive in 2027 at their peak,” Aboud says.
“But if you’re not supporting that system with good players coming through, then you’re not creating a bottleneck, you don’t create a critical mass of competition and you lose confidence with those players who are not winning or not developing. The short-term future in the next four years is pretty good, especially for Treviso.
“It’s going to be a pretty good (national) squad by 2027, much better than now because it will have that experience. However, if you’re only looking at the present and you’re not keeping an eye on the future, it’s going to come back and bite you in the backside. So I’d be worried about that.”
Since finishing with the FIR, Aboud has had a couple of job offers in areas like high performance. He also had “some conversations” with the IRFU about a return to his former employer, but he will consider other opportunities, which could mean working outside of Ireland again.
You can hear the full interview with Aboud on the Left Wing podcast which is out today on independent.ie