Delighted to be back on terra firma after a long flight might have been what was on everyone’s mind as the plane taxied towards the gate, however alongside our aircraft was the Manchester City jet, fully decked out in City colours with the club crest on the tail….this was to set the tone for the two weeks that followed.
We headed straight to the hotel, located in the Reebok Stadium, home to Bolton Wanderers. The very impressive stadium was to be home for 6 nights. We left the hotel shortly after lunch to attend our first match, Blackburn Rovers v Manchester City at Ewood Park, City were outstanding with David Silva simply sensational as they thumped Blackburn four nil, what a start, could it really get any better than this.
Day 3 was more like the weather we expected, grey and wet, Bolton Wanderers invited players and parents to their Youth Academy at Lostock where Head of Youth Development for 6-11 year olds, Nick Spooner gave the players and parents a guided tour and a questions and answers session about the way of life for Academy Players at Bolton. We watched their under 10, 12 and 14 teams play against Stoke City before heading back to the Reebok Stadium for the main event of the day, Bolton v Chelsea. Chelsea, like City the previous day gave a clinic as they ran out easy 5-1 winners, despite scoring three times Frank Lampard wasn’t the best player on the pitch that honour lay with another Spaniard, Juan Mata showing some excellent skills while the sight of Brazilian centre back David Luiz surging forward from the back was a pleasure to watch.
Afterwards the players got to go pitch side for pictures whilst the Bolton players completed their cool down.
Both City and Chelsea played 1-4-3-3, with slight variations as Chelsea’s full backs played very high leaving space for Terry, Luiz and Meireles start attacks, whereas City were more intricate in their build up. The keepers hardly ever kicked the ball out and the game was almost exclusively played on the ground. Defensively both teams closed the space down very quickly never allowing the opposition time and space on the ball, which resulted in regained possession almost immediately.
After a weekend of watching others Day 4 brought about the first chance for the players to really stretch their legs as two of Bolton Wanderers Academy coaches put the players through their paces in the shadow of the Reebok Stadium, the session like many others on the tour was held on 3G Artificial Surface something which the players really took to. The attitude and understanding of the players really stood out as they went about impressing their new coaches. The players were then given exclusive access to the Reebok Stadium as we were shown around and learnt a lot more about the design and history of the ground.
Day 5 was a very busy day, we started out at Manchester City, where the players trained in the mini-athletics stadium adjacent to Etihad Stadium, where the club play all their home fixture. The standard of the facility was excellent and the players were excited to find out that the week before when City hosted Napoli in the Champions League, Roberto Mancini oversaw a session with all the first team squad in the exact venue! The players buzzed about throughout the session with several of them catching the eye of Gavin Makel, head of the City in the Community program run by the club.
From one side of Manchester to the other as the players then headed to Old Trafford for the stadium tour, access to the Players Lounge and Home Dressing Rooms where the players got to see first hand how one of the biggest teams in the world get ready for their games.
Afterwards we headed off to Cardinal Langley High School in Oldham, where a young Paul Scholes was educated before joining United, to play a mixed Small Sided Games competition with Oldham Athletic. Mick Priest, head of Youth Development at Oldham has a plenty of experience when it comes to producing players with the likes of Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck at one point in their careers being coached by him. The players were mixed in with the Oldham lads to play a series of 6v6 matches over a period of 75 minutes. It was a cold evening but new friendships were made between the playing ground and some exciting football was played by both sets of players.
Days were soon disappearing fast and Day 6 of the tour brought us to Finch Farm, training ground of Everton Football Club. On arrival the players could see the first team training, however access to this side of the facility was not allowed, we instead trained at the Academy end which hosted 7 11v11 pitches, 4 9v9 Pitches and a full size 3G Pitch which was where our session took place. Entering the building the walls were covered with players who had graduated out of the academy to Everton’s First Team, players like Wayne Rooney, Richard Dunne and Jack Rodwell hung from the wall as if giving inspiration to all who walked through the corridors.
During the session the PFT Coaches had the privilege of meeting an Everton legend in Duncan Ferguson who was spending time at his old club doing his coaching qualifications, we watched as Everton manager David Moyes walked him through a session, speaking to him afterwards he showed he has lost none of his enthusiasm for the game.
Everton’s motto of Nil Satis Nisi Optimum means Nothing But the Best was befitting of the environment they have created at Finch Farm, it was an honour to have been invited into this truly world class facility.
Day 7 was probably the most eagerly anticipated day, with a match against one of the world’s biggest clubs, Liverpool. Weather conditions were severely against us as high winds and hail continued throughout the day. Liverpool could not have been more accommodating, on arrival at the academy they had Pro Football Training sign above the Changing Room doors and really went out of their way to make the players feel welcome. We were indeed lucky as all other sessions taking part at the academy had to be abandoned due to the conditions so we played 9 v 9 across the full size 3g surface. Both Liverpool teams were outstanding and the players found that you barely had time to take a touch at this level. The players soon adapted and continued to apply themselves throughout, Devan Conry and James Drewett managed to notch a goal each, something which they will never forget!
Afterwards the players were addressed by Tom King who hails from Perth and is currently in his second year at Liverpool, despite his newly acquired half Aussie, half Scouse accent it was a pleasure to hear Tom speak about life as a young professional trying to make the breakthrough. We wish Tom all the best on securing a new contract and also congratulations on his call up to the Australian u20 Squad.
The Liverpool experience really highlighted to all the players just how good you have to be to even get the opportunity to play professionally, the efficiency and clinical nature of the Liverpool players was outstanding to see and if we can instil this into the local game we will go a long way to producing much more young talent who will go on to succeed at the highest level.