With our Academy Summer Tour program in full flow last weekend a group of U13, U14 and U15’s took part in the U15 International Cup in Dusseldorf.
Myself and Mark Bonner were really looking forward to setting the lads both individual and team targets to try and see how they would respond throughout the weekend. We met at the R Costings Abbey Stadium on the Friday morning to travel to Gatwick where we caught a mid afternoon flight to Dusseldorf International Airport. A short taxi journey saw us arrive at our 4 star hotel in the City of Dusseldorf. With several tournaments at different ages being played throughout the City over the same weekend we were in the same hotel as Athletico Madrid, Olympiakos, and Galatasary’s U16’s, so speaking to their staff about football in general was very interesting and it gave the lads an even bigger buzz to get going!
With a good high-carb meal and early evening meeting the lads were able to relax in their rooms ready for next day!
The breakfast selection for the lads was first class and a real inside into what the pro’s would perhaps be offered when staying over night for a league or cup fixture in the coming season.
Acting like a pro means doing it all the time and this includes what you eat, how you rest, how you conduct yourself and I am very keen to stress that some of the players on this tour have been with us for 8 years and been away on numerous European tours and do exactly that like it is part of their everyday life. The previous tours and experiences they have gained over the years will hold them in good stead throughout the weekend with lots of games in a short space of time with minimal recovery time and exceedingly high temperatures!
Day 1 saw us start against Hannover and we started exactly how we wanted too! Possession based, well organised and have the ability to score goals from different situations. The game finished 4-1 and the pick of the goals was from Lee Watkins following some excellent build up play and whereby our deep midfielder got the other side of our centre forward to finish one touch off a great delivery.
FDS Suomi from Finalnd were the opponents in the second game and this strong, physical side were a threat from set pieces. Therefore discipline was a key factor in not giving away needless free kicks and corners as well as having the ability to play through them quickly. With an excellent defensive display and the creativity in the final third meant the lads won the game 2-0. Goals from Ben Worman and Cass Grant were enough to see the lads continue their good start. Games were coming thick and fast and with the temperature reaching 32C pitch side we were keen to get some shade, fluid and rest before the next fixture.
We didn’t quite reach the heights of creativity and movement that we did in the previous two games and therefore, were unable to open up the opposition who sat in and made it difficult for us. To say they parked the bus would be a little harsh but we didn’t move the ball quickly enough through them and therefore had to resort to shots from distance which didn’t really threaten our opponents. The game finished 0-0 and although the game was a slight disappointment, it gave the lads 3 different types of games and therefore great opportunities of learning to play against different types of teams. The first game was a very open game, the second was against a very physical side who pressed really high and the 3rd game was against a team who sat in and tried to stifle our attacking play.
A great learning environment to come up against these types of challenges in such a short space of time and scenario’s that will happen in their careers over the coming years no matter what level they play at.
Game 4 saw us face the Danes – Kopenhagen. After speaking about decisive play when combining in the opponents half following the 3rd game this was probably our best performance of the tournament so far. 3 goals in the opening 12 minutes from some really clinical passages of play meant that for the rest of the game we were able to maintain possession for long periods against a good side. Joe Neal with a very well taken goal in this game. Coming in off the line to latch onto a through ball to sit the GK down and stroke it home with his weak foot.
A really professional finish to the first day, meaning we had finished the group top and would go through to another seeded group at the start of day 2.
We decided to go for a leisurely stroll to the supermarket to stock up on fruit, water and other bits to help us get through the soaring temperatures of the following day! An evening meal and meeting followed and the lads pretty much got their heads down straight away following a tiring but very enjoyable day!
Start of day two saw us face Cergy Pontoise from France in the opener and again like before only teams finishing the group top would go through to the semi finals. The opponents were an extremely athletic side with pace and power and could cause us a problem if we allowed them too.
The French side opened the scoring in this game with a wonder goal. The French midfielder opened up from at least 35 yards and hit his effort into the top corner. How would the lads react? First time they have conceded a goal first in a game in the tournament. Well the lads reacted as expected and showed not only great application but moved the ball extremely well to create a number of opportunities. Leon Davies playing at right back went on a fantastic run showing great pace and balance only to be brought down in the box, to which Ben Worman took responsibility of the penalty and the U’s were level. Another pleasing aspect of this game was an incident from one of our young Centre backs, Stevan Shaw. When retrieving the ball upon a free kick Stevo was pushed and then nearly struck in the face from the French striker. Stevan didn't react, kept his discipline and composure. The opposition striker got sent off and suspended for the rest of the tournament. As you see a lot in the Premier League and across the continent now when players have an altercation on the pitch it can often lead to not only the initial display of ill-discipline being punished but the retaliation as well. Being able to show composure, discipline and professionalism at crucial times is one thing that CUFC Academy prides itself on and has done so for many years.
So when the game re-started we used the extra man really well, and moved the ball extremely cleverly and but for a very near miss in the last kick of the game would have seen us come away with a deserved victory, but we were unable to finish off our good work and unfortunately finished the game level.
The lads had to better the score of the previous game in our group to progress to the semi finals and a comfortable victory saw us get into the knock out stages. It was interesting to see that 3 out of the 4 semi finalists were in our first group and was another reason to prove how well the lads had played the day before.
Anyway, we were to face Kopenhagen from Denmark again and this time it was a totally different game to the one in the group! Coming back twice from a goal down saw the game finish 2-2 and a penalty shoot out we see the winners face Southend United FC in the final. Ben, Leon, Cass, Stevan and Adam all put there penalties away with clinical finishes and it was time for George Bugg to be the hero. The U’s keeper saved the final Kopenhagen spot kick and the U’s were off to the Final to play the Shrimpers.
After a 30 minute rest it was time for the national anthem to be sung and for the game to start. In fairness, I had been impressed by Southend’s performances throughout the tournament and they looked to have good technicians and pace in the side.
The young U’s certainly saved their best until last and upped their game against their best opponents yet. A really good display showing great defensive shape and ball retention as well as the ability to attack at pace and get midfield players the other side of our Central Striker were really evident.
A great finish from Ben Worman in the first half for his 8th goal in 8 games saw the U’s go 1-0 up and then Jesse Kissi latched onto a defence splitting pass to fire in off the inside of the post 5 minutes from the final whistle, this being enough for the U’s to be crowned Champions!!
The lads had been first class, on and off the pitch all weekend and like I said earlier, the previous experiences that some of these boys have gained over the years really shone through.
Several compliments about the behaviour of the lads around the hotel and at the tournament venue were expressed to myself and Mark and although it is nice to hear – it is very normal and ordinary for us to receive this. Our players must ensure they conduct themselves correctly and this isn’t something that they gain praise for but something that has become expected from players of their age.
For the lads to perform so well in a U15 tournament with 3 U13’s and 7 U14’s was testament to not only their application but ability too. With lots of this age group being regulars at the Abbey Stadium on Saturday afternoons watching the 1st team, maybe the success is catching! Regardless, you can see that by finding different ways to improve their game, they are giving themselves an excellent opportunity of progressing through the system should this continue!
Squad: George Bugg – GK, Joe Neal, Joshua Jeche, Ben Worman, Kieran Bonney, Adam Capel, Jesse Kissi, Lee Watkins, Stevan Shaw, Leon Davies, Jake Crow, Cass Grant, Ryan Yallop, Fernando Bell Toxtle and Adam Fleming. Staff: Tom Pell, Mark Bonner and Academy physio Matt Lee.
The U10, U11 and U12 squads are away in Germany over the next 3 weekends so keep your eye on the website for some reports on the forthcoming tours.
The U10’s are in Verl this coming weekend at the Sportlife Cup which includes clubs such as FC Barcelona, Juventus and many more big guns from across Europe including being in the same group as Werder Bremen and Borussia Monchengladbach.
Tom Pell - Academy Lead Foundation Coach 5-11