Members of the Aldershot Town youth department return to Barcelona this week to compete in an international tournament and play on the same legendary Camp Nou pitch as Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez.
An Under 14 team led by Head of Youth Sam Waters will fly to Spain on Thursday morning, and on Friday and Saturday will play in the Europa Cup against teams from across Europe. The qualifying stages are held at Barcelona’s Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper training centre, with the tournament itself played at the Camp Nou.
A squad of 11 will travel to Spain for the seven-a-side tournament, just two months after the Youth Department’s training camp in the city. “Some of these players were sat in the Camp Nou watching a Champions League quarter-final, at the beginning of April, and now they are going to be playing on that pitch,” enthuses Sam. “It’s something they probably only dreamed of, and to have that opportunity is incredible. There are many professional footballers, even in the Premier League, who will never play at the Camp Nou. It’s a real special opportunity for them.
“It’s an invaluable experience in their development, not just as footballers but as people too, in being away from home for four days and looking after themselves. It will give them an understanding of playing in a different environment, and how excitement and fatigue can affect their performance,” he explained, with temperatures expected to reach 26C on Friday. “These are benefits they will hopefully be able to draw upon when they are older, and maybe get a chance to play football across Europe.”
That maturity is key to the creation of both professional athletes and well-rounded adults, as Waters continues: “It’s a crash course in growing up, almost. We’re lucky that the kids we recruit have got the good attitude that they will need in their professional lives. Some of these people could potentially be playing first-team football in two or three years’ time, and the sooner than can begin to grow up the better it will be. In a first-team environment they will need to hold their own, compete and be confident, so these type of experiences will set them up nicely for what is to come.”
Upon returning from Barcelona, on Sunday evening, Waters and his team of coaches will immediately begin in earnest the recruitment process for next season, with three trials held at Guildford’s Surrey Sports Park on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
“We’ve got 600 children coming down for a trial, with only 168 places left available. We’ve already offered 100 children a place for next season, so it will be really tough competition and a lot of difficult decisions to make,” admitted Waters. “As we have had to do with some of the kids who won’t be remaining with us for next year – that’s the nature of the game, and we need to make sure that we have the very best players, playing against the very best, if we’re going to give them any hope of playing first-team football.”