Head of Academy Coaching Adam Bridgeford reports on a successful first tour of the season for the U11's!
If you read the academy programme notes regularly you will have read many times about our tour programme and the experiences we provide our young players in tournament football abroad. The season's tour programme started last weekend with the U11 group travelling to Riga, Latvia, to participate in the BFS Cup.
A group of 12 academy players travelled with Lead Foundation Phase Coach Luke Chadwick and myself for the Thursday – Saturday tour. All 12 members of the squad had previously been away to a different country on a Cambridge United tour and for many of the squad it was the fourth time. This experience at such a young age is invaluable and was a huge benefit on this occasion.
The whole squad were very low maintenance and knew actually how to behave, conduct themselves, and prepare off the field. With the focus on the off the field work done on previous tours, and the players maintaining high standards in this area, it allowed the full focus this time around to be on the pitch with the aim of having a successful tournament.
With Thursday being a travel and preparation day it was the perfect time to conduct a team meeting. Here the players agreed with the staff what a successful tour would look like. Everyone agreed that for the tour to be a success the following two things would have to happen;
1) We are still competing to win the tournament on day two and we finish in the top four.
2) The players show a big individual improvement on the feedback they were given since the last tour four months ago in Germany.
Day one and we had to finish in the top three in a group of seven to guarantee qualification into the 'gold group' on day two. This was achieved after drawing the first game against Hertha Berlin, and then staying undefeated the whole day by beating Brighton and Hove Albion, FC Infonet (Estonia), BJSS, Super Nova, and Dinamo Riga (all Latvia). The group put us against many different playing styles and challenges. We knew what to expect from Brighton having played them many times at all ages. Hertha Berlin play quick attacking football with the ball on the floor. The Latvian teams provided a physical challenge with a direct attack forcing our youngsters to deal with lofted balls into our box. Our youngsters dealt with these challenges superbly and day one was concluded with a meeting to discuss what we can expect from day two.
The staff were very demanding of the players throughout the tour but the players kept responding to every challenge thrown at them. Day two they managed to maintain their unbeaten run to put them top of the gold group and into the final against German giants Hertha Berlin.
Having drew the first game of the tournament against them we knew what to expect but we entered the final with great momentum and high in confidence. After a bright opening period Hertha took the lead and punished us for not clearing our lines properly. 1-0 down at half-time and we had to instill some confidence and belief into the players as the goal visibly knocked them. The second half was everything you would want from a Cambridge United team and after Reece Hipwell scored an equaliser there was only going to be one winner. That came from a brilliant solo effort from Samuel Tagg from way outside the box.
CHAMPIONS! The tournament consisted of 15 games which we managed to stay unbeaten for. A great achievement at any age group. Reece Hipwell deserves a mention for finishing joint golden boot of the tournament on nine goals. However it is difficult to single anyone out as all 12 players had an influence in making the tour a success.
1) The players won the tournament – With development being more important in this age group than winning the tour, it gave a nice opportunity to practise winning outside of the English academy development programme. Learning and understating how to win is an important part of their programme. As is knowing how it feels to win and be a winner!
2) Every player showed a huge individual improvement since the last tour. This was even more pleasing for me as a member of staff who has overseen their development for the last two years.
A really pleasing start to the season's tour programme which leaves us all really excited about the academy tours to Germany in January with the U16, U12, and U10 age groups.
Up the U's!