Train the Barca way, or learn passing the Man U way or cross the Brazilian way,” is the promise that international football clubs give young guns of football. And many want a bite of this shining footie pie.
One went to Manchester United after being chosen by club scouts and is now all guns blazing in South Africa. Meet Brandon Fernandes. Another learnt at Brazilian football club Santos during a three-month training. Meet 10-and-a-half-year-old Akbar Ali Khan. Yet another trained at the Royal Antwerp Football Club in Belgium and is now under contract with the club. Meet 22-year-old Varin Mehta. Another hopeful will travel to Fulham FC for a two-day soccer camp. Meet Suraj Sawhney from Delhi. And of course, there are a bunch that will travel to Bayern Munich this May after being chosen in an Adidas contest.
These are just a few among a passionate family of football lovers aspiring to train at international clubs. And while it does cost an arm and a leg to sign up for a camp, and being chosen for their skills is very difficult, more and more children are heading the International Football Club way to learn, if not from the legends, atleast in the same battleground.
Not many are as skilful as Brandon Fernandes who not only trained at Manchester United but also got to meet Nani and Micheal Owen. Godwin Franco, a midfielder at Dempo says, “It’s definitely great to train anywhere in Europe. There is no comparison as the training is so scientific. Kids who have the money get a chance. In Dempo FC, we have tied with Danish club FC Midtjylland so two of our boys are training there too.”
Brazilian player now with Churchull FC in Goa, Roberto Mendis Silva, who is also director of BSA Academy, says, “Many boys are signing up if they can afford to pay the fees. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Legendary football clubs like Chelsea, Barcelona, Manchester United, Real Madrid, etc offer training at the professional and basic level. This has become the MO for these little Messis in the making. Who wouldn’t want to walk the path their footballing legends like Messi, Ronaldo, Rooney, Arjen Roben and Ronaldinho have tread? Silva, also called Beto, adds, “There are different types of programmes with clubs that can start at 300 euros for a week’s practice and go to 1,500 euros for a month.”
While Brandon Fernandes’ dribbling skills were noticed, Varin Mehta trained with RAFP and is now on contract with the club purely on skills and 10-year-old Akbar Ali Khan’s three-month soccer camp at Brazil’s Santos has stood him in good stead.
Brandon now trains in South Africa at the African Soccer Development Academy. He is all set to play matches with ASD in Portugal and Belgium. Brandon was chosen amongst 5,000 local lads and topped among the final 12 in Goa. “In England too, he qualified for the World Skill finals and finished in the top 10,” says former Goa Football Association assistant secretary and his proud father Jaju Fernandes. “He started playing when he was six and has played in the under-14, under-16, under-18 and under-19 nationals. He is the first to have played in all these age groups.”
Varin’s father Girish Mehta, a diamond trader, says. “From the age of six Varin has been playing for Kenkere, Mahindra, etc. In 2009, Varin went for three months to RAFC and again in 2010. Now he has a full-fledged contract. We didn’t pay any money, he was chosen for his talent. The Indian team did not even look at his talent. Why is that?”
Akbar got a chance to shake hands with all-time favourite stars Robinho and Neymar, (who is being called the second Pele) at Santos’. “I learnt so much,” Akbar says. Even Delhi-based Suraj Sawhney is excited and his eyes are set on a two-day camp at Fulham FC.
Having a football fan as a parent also helps, as is the case with most of these boys. “There are over 15 boys in my school who are going for international camps,” Suraj adds. “It was amazing to be at Manchester United and learn the finer skills,” adds Brandon.
Akbar’s Santos experience is something he will always cherish, “When I first went to Brazil, I did not have much control and after two months, I learnt coordinating and control.”
Beto offers training camps at BSA Academy where he expects atleast 200 kids (last year there were 150) for the 2012 summer, “Increasingly, many are targeting international academies but these camps don’t give a child a chance to try at a professional level as the programmes are designed for kids to garner basics,” he cautions.
The difference in training abroad is “huge. Here the training is slugglish, coaches lethargic. The coaches, climate and mentality is different. Varin has very tough practice sessions, six hours a day, seven days a week,” Girish explains.
After a flurry of airports, jet-lagged nights and hotel rooms in Russia and Brazil, Akbar now trains with BSA Academy in Goa. “He started training at a very young age and I think with football, if you have the talent, you will get noticed,” says his mother Jeeva Bhat.
Ten lucky boys have also been chosen to go to Germany through an Adidas campaign. Among them is Sayak Barai who is thrilled about going to Bayern Munich in May. He says, “We are going to Munich to represent India in the FC Bayern Youth Cup. It is a 10-day tour. We will also see the Champions League Final as it is being held in the Allianz Arena, the homeground of Bayern Munich.”
“It is more about passing the ball, dribbling and a scientific approach. Development and coaching is top notch,” explains Brandon. Akbar also did a few sessions at Zenit Pertersburg in Russia. “Indian football training concentrates too much on shooting, the international training was challenging as the focus is on passing and dribbling,” says the hotshot.
“Akbar was good, so we prebooked the Santos training. We sent videos of his game and it does cost a lot of money as they identify skill. For a week’s training, the cost could be an average of Rs 5 to Rs 6 lakh,” adds Jeeva Bhat. Suraj will shell out £150 for a two-day camp at Fulham FC. Comparatively, BSA Academy in Goa charges Rs 1,300 per month and currently has 100 boys living on the premises for special programmes.
Akbar has an embarrassing memory that still makes him laugh, “I got a chance to score a goal in a game and scored with my butt. The goalie was taking a goal kick and it bounced off my butt and went in — that was funny.”
There are various programmes in Europe — the professional programmes where skill and talent is sacrosanct and summer camps for basics. According to Beto, most professional programmes require a CV, a DVD and immense talent after which a trial date is set. “We don’t have bases in India to prepare the boys to compete at that level. Kids from Brazil, Argentina, France, who start training at six, will reach the trials as they are much ahead of Indian kids,” says Beto.
And Godwin Franco agrees, “It’s a great experience but to really make a difference they should train for atleast a year to hone their talents.” So, what are the positives of an international programme? The exposure of playing with children from another culture and coaches with a different vision and football mindset is the most important.
“International club experience is something the kids will never forget. If the goal is to make football a career, then you have to look for a consistent programme throughout the year. Just going abroad for a summer camp will not make a big difference,” Beto cautions, adding, “We need options in terms of football academies in India, so hope the big clubs arrive to take Indian football to the next level. During that time, we at BFA are try to do our part to give the children training,”