Tuesday 21 February 2012
Two Premier League Academy teams have booked their places at a chance-of-a-lifetime event in Barcelona after winning their respective competitions at the 2012 Barclays Premier League Under-14 National Tournament.
Arsenal and Fulham came through the fiercely competitive tournament involving all 20 Premier League clubs at the London Soccerdome in Greenwich.
And the two London U14 sides now have the prospect of taking part in a four-team event at Barcelona's Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper training complex on 17th and 18th March.
The Premier League tournament was split into two two-day events with 10 sides in each competition.
"Having every Premier League club there made the tournament what it was"
- Premier League's Ged Roddy
Arsenal defeated Tottenham Hotspur on penalties after Sunday's final ended 0-0, the Gunners having come through a group featuring Everton, Newcastle United, Stoke City and Swansea City.
On Friday, Fulham topped their group ahead of Manchester City, Blackburn Rovers, West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland before recording a 4-2 victory over Chelsea in the final.
"I am very pleased," said Fulham Academy Development Manager Geoff Noonan, who revealed that his players were not told about the Barcelona prize until just before the start of the final.
"We will learn a great deal from the trip to Barcelona, whatever happens results-wise.
"Playing against teams that keep the ball for long spells will be another learning experience. There will be a tactical and technical challenge as well as the challenge of the travel and the boys dealing with a different culture and country.
"I'm not sure I could see it in their eyes at the end, I think they were so tired from the game. It will sink in during the next few days that they will get that trip and the excitement will come from that."
Premier League Director of Youth Ged Roddy said the competitive edge of the tournament will play an important part in the development of young players.
"There's a big debate about how much competition you should have but I think we are getting the balance right," said Roddy.
"There's still plenty of opportunity for them to work on their development; but equally, three years from now, these guys will be looking at contracts so this is part of building them into that sort of competitive environment they are hopefully going to have to deal with in their working life.
"We have grown the Games Programme quite significantly in the last two years, really in preparation for the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) and everything that is going to come with that.
"The more opportunities we can have for these players to do this the better it will be"
- Wolves' Gareth Prosser
"We administered over 5,000 games last season and it's growing again this season so the frequency of these types of events is increasing, there seems to be an insatiable appetite for it.
"The clubs have supported this, every club in the Premier League was there and they have made it the tournament it was. We are delighted."
Roddy added that the trip to Barcelona will give both the players and the coaches a superb opportunity to gain knowledge from one of the world's biggest clubs.
"An underpinning principle to all of this is that we want to get the best playing with the best," he said. "Clearly right now Barcelona have got a lot of momentum not just in terms of what they are doing on a first-team level but what they have done by growing young players through their Academy.
"There are great things happening in the Premier League but you have to keep your doors and minds open to what is going on.
"What we have seen from the international tournaments we have hosted in England is that the travelling teams have got a huge amount out of it in terms of the English experience. You can see them learning.
"We are just keen to make sure that as a League we are constantly testing things out. It will be a great experience for our clubs."
This is the second year that the Under-14 Tournament has taken place and the first time with all 20 Barclays Premier League clubs.
And the coaches taking part said the event would only be a positive for their players, whether they qualified for Barcelona or not.
"Getting the opportunity to play with and against the top players is the best learning environment for them"
- WBA's Aaron Danks
"We would have all loved to be getting our passports out, but the big thing for us is that they learn from this experience," said Gareth Prosser, Head of Coaching at Wolves Academy.
"The more opportunities we can have for these players to do this the better it will be. We've got some young ones in the team and I'm sure they'll be back next year and will be better for it."
West Bromwich Albion Under-12-16 Academy Manager Aaron Danks said the tournament provided his players with a rounded learning experience.
"Getting the opportunity to play with and against the top players is the best learning environment for them," said Danks.
"But we use it as a fantastic experience off the pitch as well. We have lots of meetings with the boys, talk to them about their nutrition, their hydration, their rest and recovery process. It's been a fantastic two days."