I recently returned from the Barcelona area where my family and I spent almost 19 days living in a country where futbol is life. The purpose of the trip was two fold, my 4 boys were to train for 15 days at a local club and secondly we were to take in the sights and sounds of Barcelona with my wife and kids. This trip came about from my first trip to Barcelona.
I had been to Barcelona in 2012 when I was involved with the Ontario Provincial Program. We had traveled with our U14-U16 teams for training and friendly games. I quickly fell in love with the style of play which was the same at all the clubs we faced. We had faced Sant Andreu, CE Jupiter, FC Girona and RCD Espanyol. The style was no different than the tika taka of FC Barcelona but what was the most impressive was that 8 year olds were playing the same style all the way up to FCB. I knew it would be great if my 4 boys could experience that at some point but not really knowing they would get that opportunity 2 years later.
Last year a group out of Barcelona came and conducted a camp at Oakville Soccer Club where my 4 boys play. My 4 boys are as passionate for the game as you will see. In fact at times I think they may know more than me and definitely know more than me when I was their age. With so much futbol on tv, internet and other avenues they have an advantage and more kids should take advantage of the footy available to them on TV. Anyways the first day of the camp had passed and I was lying in bed and watching tv. It was around midnight and not a creature was stirring not even a mouse, oops wrong story!! The kids and my wife were all sleeping or so I thought. I heard a bedroom door open and I thought somebody was going to the bathroom. My door quickly opened and my 9 year old said
"Dad I can't sleep because I was thinking. I have learned so much today at the camp in only one day. What would it be like if I trained like this regularly in Spain? I have made a decision that if I want to become a professional soccer player, I need to leave Canada, can we do this?"
So what do you tell a 9 year old at 12:04am after such a profound statement/question? I said go to bed and fall asleep, we will see what we can do. Just a few minutes before I was thinking I should turn the TV off and go to sleep, now I had my 9 year old's comment in my mind and was tossing and turning. Eight months later we fast forward to March 4, 2014, what were we to expect for the boys in Barcelona? One thing we certainly knew was that the weather was going to be much nicer than this year's Canadian winter. For me this was the coldest, longest winter I have ever experienced and the trip to Barcelona was a well needed winter break. The boys were excited yet nervous, they had never traveled outside North America let alone training in another country. There were saying things like,
"We don't speak Spanish or Catalan, how are we going to understand what the coaches are saying? What if none of the players know any English or don't pass the ball to us? Will they accept us, can we play with these a Spanish kids, Spain is #1 in the world."
We arrived in Barcelona at 7am and the kids were excited. Their first session was at 5:45pm with a local club called Vic Riuprimer REFO FC. This is a small community club based in Vic and area which is located about 70 km outside of Barcelona. It is an unknown club to most of us but they have managed to develop several youth players that have graduated to FC Barcelona, RCD Espanyol and many other clubs in Spain. We picked up our van and of course this was a European van which was no where near the size of our van here in Canada. I said to my wife,
"This is Europe Tanya, get used to it."
We had 6 pieces of luggage and some carry-ons and we had to get very creative just to get out of the terminal. So once we figured out the luggage and the Citroen's version of automatic, we started to make our trip north to Vic although we went west and east and probably everywhere we were not supposed to go. At this point I think all of us are running on adrenaline but we managed to make it back on course to Vic. Barcelona is a beautiful city like many cities in Europe, where the blend of old and new shape up the city landscape. One of the boys shouted out
"We are in the same city as Lionel Messi!!"
We arrived at our 3 bedroom flat where we were greeted by Jaime and Josep. These two individuals were part of the group that ran the camp at Oakville the previous Summer and were instrumental in arranging all of this for us. After settling ina bit of time we made the trek again from Moia where we stayed to Vic for a bite to eat. We were about 25 kms from Vic and about 750m above sea level in the mountains. Our trip up and down the mountain became second nature to us but was a bit worrisome at first at night with no lights and many hairpin turns and a speed limit of 90km/hr
We went to the city square where most of the stores/shops were closed as it was around 1:30pm. As I said earlier this is Europe and many of the commercial areas shut down in the afternoon and reopen in the evening. We managed to find a restaurant that was open and with our translators and our picture menus we were able to order some food as we were all tired and hungry. Here are the boys after lunch, some happy and others tired. My oldest didn't have his required sleep of 12 hours so he wasn't the friendliest at this point, but all in all were ready to get to the stadium and get their first taste of training.
But first things first, we had a few hours before training and needed to go back to our flat up the windy mountain road to get ready. The Spanish countryside was beautiful and it was much warmer at 15C than our winter weather.
The boys were excited and had received their new Vic training kit. We packed the car and left our place to go back down the mountainside and arrived at the stadium at 5:15pm for the 5:45 training session. They had their gear and were escorted to the change rooms , Dimitri, Nicholas and Alexander were training this evening and Lukas was starting tomorrow. As we were waiting for the training to begin we were taking in the view from the stadium. In the background are the Pyrenees. This mountain range separates Spain and France and are about 200 km away or at least that is what the locals told me. Not a bad location, we were a few hours to skiing and an hour from the Mediterranean Sea.
I didn’t want to see any more snow this year up close but the view was magnificent. It was very close to 545 and I started to see many coaches coming out with their cones and training vests. I was very excited to see how the boys would do. My wife on the other hand was trying to absorb as much sun as she could before the sun set and probably was on her 3rd book on her Kobo. She went to the other side of the stadium where the sun was still shining.
Players started to come out of the tunnel and I spotted Alexander who had a flock of players around him. The players looked amazed to see their first Canadian born soccer player. He wasn’t holding a hockey stick or even wearing skates, he was there to play futbol. Alexander was training on the “sand” just outside the stadium. The sand was more like dirt although during the summer will be replaced with artificial turf. Playing on the sand regularly for training would definitely improve your first touch as it has to be very good to be effective on the hard fast surface. The dust from the field doesn’t help either. At times we don’t realize the facilities that we do have here and how good they are. Dimitri emerged as he had goalkeeper training in the stadium and Nicholas was also in the stadium for his training. Lukas was running around the stadium being Lukas. The club had one stadium which had an artificial surface, and 3-11v11 full size dirt, I mean sand fields in one location. They also used a grass field in nearby Santa Eulalia de Riuprimer for games only at 7v7 or 11v11. Teams train on average 3 times/week at 1.5 hour sessions and have their game on Saturday or Sunday. That is it, not 5 or 6 practices/week but 3. They don’t have to be encouraged to play outside of training because futbol is the way of life and the technical ability of these kids is very high. One thing that stood out to me was the size of most of the kids. In comparison they looked average or small compared to what I was used to here in Canada. Sure there were some kids that were considerably bigger but they were the exception. Could the quote from an article from 3 years ago be true?
"Bigger, stronger and faster may be desirable in England, but in Spain they are simply disregarded, unless they are technically able too."
Not sure if I would hear that comment in Canada but I definitely have heard coaches that say that this kid has size and is athletic, I am sure we can turn him into a soccer player!! I think that is another story for another day but I will end instalment one. Instalment two will focus on the training that I saw and how it compares to Canada. Hope you enjoyed!!
Score/Standings, Promotion/Relegation in Youth football in Catalonia and how it works.