COLCHESTER United’s director of performance Jon De Souza has joined an elite band of coaches in gaining the prestigious UEFA Pro Licence qualification.

De Souza, who has been at the U’s since 2016, joined the likes of Liverpool icon Steven Gerrard and Manchester United legend Peter Schmeichel in passing the FA Level 5 in Coaching Football course, the FA’s highest available qualification.

Fewer than 400 coaches can boast the qualification in this country including Gareth Southgate, Brendan Rodgers and Sean Dyche, while only 1,500 coaches have it in the whole of Europe.

De Souza was one of 27 coaches celebrated by the FA at St George’s Park after receiving the qualification, which prepares coaches for the pressures and challenges of modern-football management.

Graduates are also trained to manage media relations, introduced to working with Technical Directors and guided to how to create high-performance club cultures and environments.

De Souza told the Gazette: “It’s the pinnacle of coaching qualifications, so I’m very pleased.

“I would say it’s one of the biggest achievements of my career so far.

“It’s easier to measure than something like player development, where there are a lot of staff involved in that process.

“A lot of hard work has gone into it.

“You only need it if you coach in the Premier League which may or may not happen for me but I’ve acquired a fantastic skill set from it and there’s a lot on leadership and management.

“It started around two years ago and there are five stages to go through to get on the course, including an intensive interview they really put you out of your comfort zone and use military guys as part of the process.

“The course started in January 2018 and it’s been an intense 18 months.

Colchester United have been brilliant in helping me, as it’s involved seven three-day blocks away from the club along with independent study.

“During the course, I had a lot of contact with people like Steven Gerrard and Peter Schmeichel and you can’t help but learn from those guys.

“The course was full of fantastic people and I think there were friends made for life.

“I’ve certainly been able to extend my contacts book and we’ve talked about helping each other out in the future.”

De Souza has just taken over as Colchester's new director of performance and will front a newly-created department which will focus on enhancing the performance levels of U's teams, players and staff, at the League Two club.

He has taken up the new position after switching from his role as Colchester’s academy manager, which he undertook for three years.

Prior to moving to Colchester, he spent 11 years at Luton as a player and then a coach, taking over as their under-18 and reserve-team manager at Kenilworth Road.

De Souza left Luton to join Brentford, spending five years as the Bees’ under-23 coach and working closely with first-team manager Uwe Rosler.

He also had a spell as an FA Tutor for Level One and Two coaching courses and is also a UEFA A Licence holder.