Tom Pell reports from the Rheda International Cup
ANOTHER weekend in June and another weekend of the U's Academy boys competing with some of Europe's big guns!
This weekend we took a group of U11 & U12 to take part in the Rheda International Cup, in Northern Germany.
With the Player/Parent inductions this week and pre season training starting next, it was a great way to start the season as they mean to go on.
32 teams took part from all across Europe including teams from Germany, Finland, Ukraine, Poland and Russia.
Friday was a travel and prep day which started extremely early with a 4.30am meet at London Gatwick ready for our 6.30am flight over to Düsseldorf.
Having been to Düsseldorf 3 out of the last 4 weekends I was getting the hang of how to get to the train station etc for our onward journey!
After a half and a half train journey we arrived at the hotel and went to stretch our legs, then went for a stroll through he town on Gutersloh. After a leisurely walk and some food we went to train to start to prepare the day ahead.
Dynamic stretches, combination play, head tennis and ball manipulation were the main areas of the relaxed session which we hopefully enable us to feel fresh in the morning and not have the early start and journey as an excuse for a slow start.
An early night and then another early morning meant that after breakfast we got the train up the road before arriving at the tournament venue, RSC Rheda.
The games on day one came thick and fast and exactly what we wanted to enable lots of game time for the players to help us in reinforcing both positive aspects of their game and areas to improve! Lots of competitive minutes means lots of practices, go's, scenarios to try and work at both individually and collectively with whatever the situation may be with a consequence at the end.
Game one saw us go down 0-1 to Redbull Liepzig after a individual mistake led to a penalty which resulted in the U's starting the tournament with a defeat. Although we didn't deserve to lose the game in terms of possession and amount of time with the ball, the message was a lack of creativity and individual error could cost you and unfortunately on this occasion it did. Never mind and onto the next one.
The next game saw a 5-0 victory for the lads in Amber and the pick of the goals was a marauding run and finish from left back Thomas (Ozzy) Dickens.
For those that know Ozzy will know that the celebration would also match the quality of the finish!
The third game of the day was a very disappointing result. We lost 1-0, having had at least 85% possession creating numerous opportunities and got caught out from a bit of sloppy play late in the game. Although a disappointment, we as coaches were quite pleased with the type of game we got. The Academy football that the boys regularly play in, very rarely would they play in a game where they would dominate so much of the ball and have to break down a team with 9 men behind the ball. The disappointing thing was that the times we did cut them open we lacked a cutting edge in front of goal. Again another thing to learn that if you don't take your chances then you can punished! I'm sure if Roy Hodgson is reading this he will be rolling his eyes! The beauty of tournament football is that 30 mins later you get an opportunity to try and improve.
Stuttgart Kickers were the opponents in the 4th game, a team we have played many times before across the age groups and formed a good link with (we are attending their U11 tournament next weekend) and also a defeated semi finalist. We knew that it would be a different type of game to the last few and the lads started really well. The first game for the lads on grass (previous three on 3G) saw us pass the ball well, maintain large passages of possession and look a threat when in the final third. We went a goal down quite late in the game but the message was 'keep playing' and low and behold one of my favourite goals of the tournament saw MOM Cameron Dunbar latch onto the end of 3 one touch passes to finishes first time past the out rushing keeper. 1-1.
Game number 5 saw us play Arsenal Kiev from the Ukraine, a strong side with a very Eastern European feel. A strange game and one that left us starching our heads wondering how we had finished the game on the losing side?? We moved the ball well, we had the large majority of the ball and creating enough opportunities to win the game. After the game we spoke with the players about the small details that play a big part. It might be the ball protection in the middle third to avoid a turnover and counter attack, it might be the CF movement when the crosser shapes to cross, the pass they may need to be safe side as opposed to his feet. These bits of detail were discussed with the lads and gave them a chance to voice their opinion as it was a strange one for us coaches to be saying a resounding well done having lost another game. We are keen to stress to our players all the time to play football in a expansive, high energised manner so when they do that and lose a game - no problem. However, do we want to be players who known as 'nice on the eye Cambridge'? Definitely not so let's help each other be exciting to watch, well disciplined and able to beat team we are better than.
There were two more game in our group of 8 and two wins were needed to get through to the last 16. Unsurprisingly the lads won the last two game in the group a impressive 5-0 a piece. The last game of the group was the winners go through and to win the the manner they did was very impressive. The performances from earlier in the day, we're continuing but the end product was also there for everyone to see! Really pleasing and goes to show if that if you continue to do what you believe in you will get the results you deserve and also the consistency in information given to players will help them long term!
The pick of the goals in the last two games were shared between a great touch and finish from Alfie Guy Pinkney and Marcel Lewis who nicked the ball having screened a pass before curling it round the goalkeeper beautifully into the bottom corner.
So the lads were through to the last 16 and went through to another group of 4 on Sunday. We went to Pizza Pasta land for tea where chicken pasta, spag bol and spaghetti carbonara seemed to be the dishes of the day! We also watched the Brazil v Chile game and tried to learn a thing or two of how to take a penalty should it go to that for us the following day.
Sunday was what we came for in all honesty in terms of what we were looking to get out of the boys from an 'on the pitch' point of view. To be playing some of the biggest clubs in Germany, would prove really interesting to what level we think we are at currently and where we want to work towards.
First up at 10am were St Pauli a team who often show up in the latter stages of tournaments particularly the indoor tournaments we attend, with technically gifted players. What a brilliant performance!!! Although the score was only 1-0, we were thrilled with the boys ball retention, chances created and shape off the ball both in and out of possession so that we were a threat in the attack and comfortable at the back. Well done and a good start to the next stage.......
Memmingan a team we had never faced before were our opponents in the second game on day 2. A different type of game it turned out to be. Having dominated the early stages, we saw ourselves go infront from a well taken goal from AGP and having had a goal disallowed and two other very good chances go missing we ended up on the back foot as the opposition piled on the pressure with direct play, high pressure and didn't allow us time on the ball. Although our performance ended up becoming scrappy we did defend extremely well, we're brave and showed a great attitude and commitment to see the game through. Maybe we're starting to show that we could also destruct as well as create! We need them to have both and although lots to improve from this game, logs to be pleased with from different parts of their game and mentality.
Having gained 6 points from our opening two group games we were through to the quarter finals before playing our final group game of this second stage.
Our last opponents were German giants Werder Bremen. A long range effort from a young German midfielder was the difference in a close game. Although we thought we played slightly under par, we were quite pleased to see that there was very little between the two sides. Lots of positives from the second stage to take into the knock out stages.
The quarter final was close encounter. FC Bochum were the opposition this time and a brilliant goal from the U's got us off to a perfect start. A great whipped cross from Harry Simmonds was met by Josh Holland, the smallest player on the pitch who nodded the ball right into the top corner.
Just going to show that if you time your run, flight of the ball and have the right technique it doesn't matter how tall you are! After the goal, the opposition really started to up the tempo. The lads found it difficult to sustain long periods of possession but looked a threat on the counter attack. Bochum equalised with 7 minutes to go with a brilliant strike from 15 yards flying in off the inside of the post, having beaten two U's defenders. Slightly disappointing goal to concede but the quality of the strike made you applaud.
As the game went on, the locals looked looked more like scoring than we did in all honesty and unfortunately they did again with a real quality strike. A free kick which beat the wall, the keeper and came in off the post. Very shortly after the whistle was blown and we were unfortunately knocked out.
A disappointing result of course, but one in which I would suggest the neutral would say was a fair one.
They had great pace in the side and we able to turn to defence into attack extremely quickly and meant the distances we had to cover in transition were difficult.
What a great learning curve for the boys though! The quality of finish from them was from the very top draw and in the end prove to be the difference. Again the fine margin and small detail is that makes a big difference in competitive football and a lesson the lads will take away with them and hold them in good stead for future experiences.
The defeat meant that we had one more game to play, for 5th or 6th place. Again another German Big gun awaited and this time it was Shalke 04 who we would face.
A slow start to the game meant we were 2-0 down early on and made it difficult for ourselves as were then always chasing the game after that which always leaves you open slightly for the counter attack. Having said that we then started to play some really exciting quick play, particularly down the right hand side with right back Jacob Joseph bombing on to make overloads in the final third and lots of crossing opportunities. A brilliant free kick from Marcel Lewis was tipped onto the bar and ever dependable Cameron Dunbar was there to nod home. Adding goals to Cams game is something we have asked him to try and to see it coming off is extremely pleasurable for the coaching staff. As we pressed for the equaliser Shalke caught us on the break and we ended the day with another defeat.
Not the way we would of liked to end the weekend but never the less a brilliant couple of days to play some of the best clubs in Germany and be on a par with most but also to know we are a little way off some gives us as coaches and the players the opportunity to ensure we strive to keep improving and developing our knowledge and ability.
Soon after the games were done we were back at the train station to make our way back to Dusseldorf airport before heading back to Gatwick.
We look forward to taking a different age group to Stuttgart in Germany this coming weekend to finalise our closed season European tour program as the players look to get themselves back into the swing of things with pre season the following week!
Tom Pell - Academy Lead Foundation Coach 5-11