Wednesday 11 December 2013
Youngsters from across Europe came together to compete, build relationships and pay their respects to those who died in the First World War in the third running of the Premier League Christmas Truce international tournament in Ypres last weekend.
The tournament featured Under-12 teams from England, Germany, France and Belgium and provided the young people with a memorable educational and cultural experience that gave them learning opportunities both on and off the pitch.
"The competition was on a very high level and perfectly organised"
Arsenal, Manchester City, Valenciennes, Paris St Germain, Schalke 04, Borussia Moenchengladbach, Anderlecht and Club Brugge took part, with Moenchengladbach retaining the title they won last year by beating PSG 1-0 in the final.
"To win the tournament was a great success for our team,” Moenchengladbach coach Christian Wagner said. "We played very well and with much discipline so the tournament title was deserved.
"The competition was on a very high level and perfectly organised. They made it easy for the coaches and the teams to feel comfortable. It was really exemplary, especially the evening event. The players got in contact with many other players from other clubs. It was really fantastic."
Manchester City and Arsenal won the right to take part in the Ypres event after qualifying from a total of 25 English teams through regional and national tournaments. They performed admirably against some of the best players in Europe with Manchester City finishing third and Arsenan fifth.
“I’m immensely proud of the team,” Man City under-11 head coach Mark Burton told the club's website. “Most of all, because they stuck to the Academy philosophy against the best teams in Europe and didn’t change.
"In some cases, teams change their philosophy to try and win a tournament but we didn’t do that. We were the best technical team out there, which is nice to be able to say.”
The Christmas Truce tournament is a key part of the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan, which develops players not only with their tactical and technical skills but also caters for their educational and cultural needs.
Before the play began, the England boys took part in the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate Memorial, which commemorates 54,896 British and Commonwealth soldiers killed in the Ypres Salient of the First World War, as well as visiting Ypres Museum and the Christmas Truce site, where in 1914 an unofficial truce took place in the trenches around Ypres which ended up with reports of a football match being played in no man’s land.
"It is a great tournament is many ways,” Club Brugge Head of Academy Pascal de Maesschalck told premierleague.com. “The football is of a high quality and it’s good because of the social aspect of the weekend.
"Every team could beat every other team so it was a good level of competition. With different styles from the different countries, it brings you a lot of problems in football terms and we can see who is capable of handling those problems.
“These guys will never forget what World War One is all about and they will never forget this tournament. We took this event as more like a history lesson and to educate through football is great. It's unbelievable.”
One of the highlights of the weekend was a dinner attended by all the teams on Saturday, when players sat with their counterparts from the other nations and swapped gifts in the spirit of the Christmas Truce.
"We took this event as more like a history lesson"
Pascal de Maesschalck
“The contact with the other teams was important as the different languages presented another challenge,” De Maesschalck said. “It was nice to have the tables mixed up for dinner. We spoke with the players beforehand and said, ‘This is like a dressing room when you are playing in the first team and you have to manage it.’ ”
The youngsters also had the chance to meet Lance Corporal Johnson Beharry, who in 2005 became the first living recipient of the Victoria Cross for valour in over 30 years. Lance Corporal Beharry also announced that the Premier League will build an all-weather 3G pitch in Ypres, which is planned to be ready by November 2014, as part of the centenary commemorations of the First World War.
Burton believes the Christmas Truce experience is one that can ‘only enrich’ the personalities of his players.
“We took so much out of the tournament on a lot of levels - the players really got involved and it will be a memorable experience for them,” he said. “The compliments we received from the Premier League for the way our boys conducted themselves were just fantastic.
“We are so proud of them; they were brilliant on and off the pitch.”