Friday 27 September 2013
The academy coaches of West Bromwich Albion, Manchester City and Real Madrid's Under-15s were united in the delight they had with their sides' involvement in the Premier League's Under-15 International Tournament, with Albion's Jamie Smith reflecting on "an unbelievable experience" for his players, City's Gareth Whalley describing the opportunity as a "great learning curve for our boys" and Real Madrid's Santiago Solari remarking on a "high level of play".
"It was an unbelievable experience for them,"
Jamie Smith, West Brom
City and West Brom were among seven English academies involved in the 12-team tournament organised by the Premier League and held at Warwick University, which was also attended by teams from Real Madrid, Hertha Berlin and PSV Eindhoven.
This competitive event forms one part of the Games Programme of the Youth Development Phase of the Premier League's Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), which aims to improve player development by helping them make the transition to 11 v 11 matches and pitting the best players up against the best. Whalley, who takes different age-groups from the Man City academy to various tournaments around Europe, was particularly pleased with what he witnessed.
"I've been to a few Premier League tournaments and they're always really well run," he said. "The standard of opposition is usually very high and last weekend was no different."
Chelsea, Fulham, Liverpool, Newcastle United and Middlesbrough were among the teams drawn into three four-team qualifying groups by Martin Keown, the former Arsenal defender, and Smith described a reaction of wonderment from his players when they learnt of being drawn to face Real Madrid in their group.
"We didn’t think that we were too far behind Real Madrid"
Jamie Smith, West Brom
"It was an unbelievable experience for them," said Smith. "They were very excited when the draw was made, you could see it on their faces and that's all they spoke about for the next couple of hours. So it was a great for them."
Although West Brom lost to the Spanish side, they finished creditable runners-up from a tough group after victories against Fulham and Club Brugge, which was a morale-boosting outcome.
"As a whole, we didn't think that we were too far behind Real Madrid, which is very encouraging, especially as we had a lot of younger boys in the side from [born in] 1999,” Smith said. "After all, if they go on to become professional footballers there will be times when they have to play against bigger stronger, physically quicker players, so it's all part of their learning process.”
Madrid U15 coach Santiago Solari was also taken with the running of the event, and described a "great tournament at all levels", highlighting the "good organisation and excellent sports facilities". "Everything about this tournament is beneficial to the development of the players," said the former Real and Argentina winger. "Player maturity increases and the cultural exchange is invaluable.
"Everything about this tournament is beneficial to the development of the players"
Santiago Solari, Real Madrid
"The experience was very positive and it was productive for the players to exchange views with players from the other teams, and nationalities. Also, there was a high level of play and the competitive level was such that the players will progress much faster as a result of measuring up against future rivals."
City also came second in their section, which included Chelsea, Newcastle United and eventual winners Hertha Berlin, and while Whalley also noted the physical advantage of the foreign sides, due to the age classification allowing them to use slightly older players, he concluded that there was little to choose between the sides.
"One of the chief benefits of playing in these tournaments is the opportunity to play against a better calibre of player," said the former Bradford City and Wigan Athletic midfielder. "Pitting your wits against better players is always a test and seeing different styles of football.
"We played against Hertha Berlin and they play a very counter-attacking game and you don't really come across that too often from the teams we play on a Sunday. So it was good learning curve for our boys.
"It's always good to come across different teams and different styles; the more they do it the better they will be for it"
Gareth Whalley, Man City
"It's always good to come across different teams and different styles; the more they do it the better they will be for it if and when they hopefully become professionals when they're older.
"It's good for them to see the way different players play the game, the technical ability of other players. There's a lot spoken about how good technically foreign teams are compared to British teams, so it's good to see where our lads need to be and what they need to work on to get to that standard, but to be honest I don't think we're that far away."
Hertha, who overcame Madrid 1-0 in the final, also enjoyed their English tour. "First of all I would like to say thank you to each member of the tournament’s organisers," said Hertha's coach Pal Dardai. "We had fantastic days in England. It was a pleasure and a great experience for all of us to participate in the tournament.
"We played these matches in perfect conditions, and it was an honour to play against some of the best teams in Europe. Finally, we won the tournament and we are very proud of this, so it was a perfect time; all of my players enjoyed it very much."
"We played these matches in perfect conditions, and it was an honour to play against some of the best teams in Europe"
Pal Dardai, Hertha Berlin
The U15 International Tournament is not merely about what happens on the pitch. The teams' goalkeepers attended a presentation by the former Manchester United goalkeeping coach Eric Steele, the coaches had a seminar where they exchanged ideas and discussed best practice, and the players were given a glimpse of the sort of life-management skills required to handle the pressures of representing your club while being away from home.
"We use these tournaments for developing the players as people as well," Smith said. "They learn to live as a professional: diet, hydration, rest and just general professionalism in and around the hotel and other people. These tournaments help develop the players technical and tactical side but also go a long way to helping develop them as people."
*Teams who qualified from group stage in bold
Group A - Club Brugge, Fulham, Real Madrid, West Brom.
Group B - PSV Eindhoven, KRC Genk, Liverpool, Middlesbrough.
Group C - Chelsea, Manchester City, Hertha Berlin, Newcastle United.
KRC Genk 0-4 Hertha Berlin
Real Madrid 2-0 PSV Eindhoven
Hertha Berlin 1-0 Real Madrid