The Christchurch United Under-16 squad on tour in Spain have had a whirlwind of football experiences, on and off the pitch, which has given them invaluable insights for their future careers.
The touring party has been guests at the Valencia FC Academy where they worked with the same coaching staff who produced some of the finest talents in Spanish football, including Manchester City’s David Silva and Real Madrid striker Isco.
Christchurch United Academy Director Colin Williamson said that the training and playing schedule had been extremely demanding on the players, with two sessions most days, but that the young Kiwis had responded extremely well.
“They were very focused and were able to keep up with the content provided by the Valencia coaches,” said Williamson. “It was good to see that their programme was in line with our club’s philosophy in which each session has clear objectives and each exercise builds on the previous sessions.”
The team faced their first test in a friendly match against Cracks, one of Valencia’s partner clubs, and soon got their first big lesson when they were caught twice on the counter-attack, despite dominating possession.
The young New Zealanders fought back well with two goals by St Bedes student Josh Coe, but were left empty-handed when the Spaniards clinically punished a late mistake.
After an early recovery and yoga session the following day, the team lined up again that evening for a match against San Antonio.
The Spanish youth team proved another step up, and despite an early goal by Oscar Obel Hall, the Christchurch team soon found themselves 1-5 down.
The visitors refused to give up and two penalties by Obel Hall, who attends Unlimited Discovery, and a fourth goal by Rolleston College’s Ethan Mani got the travelling parents excited, before two more Spanish goals settled the tie at 4-7.
“Despite tired leg from two games in two days and being 5-1 down, the boys showed incredible resilience,” said Williamson.
He added that the mature behaviour of their Spanish peers had been a real eye-opener for the New Zealanders. “They really knew when to make a small foul, how to delay a free kick and how to hit you on the counter attack.”
Between the matches and training sessions, the touring party twice watched Valencia FC in action at the Mestella Stadium, in the Primera Division against Levante and the Europa League against Villareal. Last weekend, the football dream trip reached a new high when the youngsters witnessed FC Barcelona narrowly beat Real Sociedad in at their famous Nou Camp stadium, thanks to a late Jordi Alba goal.
In the final week, the squad will play two more matches and be hosted for a private tour in Valencia’s Mestella Stadium before they pack their bag for the long trip back to Christchurch. Williamson says it may take the youngsters some weeks or even months to absorb all the information and learnings they have gathered during this 17-day adventure.
“They have now experienced the level you need to be at for a professional environment, so that will hopefully inspire some of them to have that dream.”