24 members of Aldershot Town’s new Youth programme flew to Barcelona on Monday morning for a week-long training camp including work with some of Spain’s best youth coaches.
The players, part of the Club’s new Under 14 and Under 15 teams, will be coached by Academy staff at La Liga club RCD Espanyol before playing four games against teams from three regional clubs in Catalonia.
Training will be held at Espanyol’s 60,000 square-metre ‘Sport City’ training complex to the north of Barcelona, which features 11 pitches as well as a fully-equipped gym plus medical and catering facilities.
Joined by three Aldershot Town coaches and 10 parents, the players will spend four nights in Barcelona, with an itinerary which includes training on Tuesday before a visit to the Camp Nou to watch the first leg of Barcelona’s Champions League quarter-final against Atletico Madrid.
Matches against Unió Esportiva Sant Joan Despí, Unio Esportiva Torrelles and CD Almeda follow on Wednesday and Thursday afternoon, with each player guaranteed to play in two matches, and a city tour on Friday morning before the return flight to Gatwick Airport.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for everybody, really,” explains Head of Youth Sam Waters. “To work with coaches from one of the leading nations in world football, with regards to youth development, is a great opportunity for the players and ourselves, as staff, to look at their training methods and compare it with what we do.
“This trip will help the players develop their social skills, to experience other cultures, mix with different age groups and play football together.”
Sam sees this four-day tour as a vital part of a bigger picture which takes players all the way through to professional football. “The biggest thing we’re trying to provide at this Club is variety,” he continues, with a similar visit to Germany to work with Bundesliga coaches planned for later in the year. “Not just with going abroad and experiencing different cultures and playing philosophies, but also the environment in this country. Players need to be adaptable as well as very good technically, so they can be moulded into a first-team player.
“We need to test their mentality, of whether they’re cut out for staying away from home, being prepared to travel, and being able to focus on your football when it matters, regardless of the environment you are in.”
With further plans well underway to enter the Junior Premier League for 2016-17, as well as burgeoning relationships with both a Premier League club and Championship team with Category 1 Academy status, Sam is already looking forward to next season.
“We need to hit the ground running after using this period to change the mentality of both the kids and the parents, to get them used to being at a professional football club,” he stresses. “We must ensure that we have the best players that we can possibly recruit – they’ve got to make progress.
“It will hopefully give our better players a chance to access more playing time and more sports science support,” he explains of the links with two clubs which will help The Shots to recruit new players and develop existing squad members. “Most people in this country are very selfish and protective over their players, but if we can send a player off to a Premier League club then we’ve done our job – either they make it as a Premier League player or they come back to us a better player.
“But our kids are happy here, and we put a big emphasis on the relationships that we build with the players and their families so they feel that they are progressing. Ultimately they need to be happy and confident, even when we push them out of their comfort zones, and trust what we are doing.”