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Futbol tournaments and Culture

Kids all over the world daydream about becoming a professional footballer. Whether they dream about scoring the winning goal in an important final, or the wealth and perceived lifestyle that it could bring them or as simple as what it would be like to be a footballer on a daily basis. Recently on the Costa Brava on the northeast coast of Spain, they had the 15th edition of the Mediterranean International Cup or MIC as most call it. This is an opportunity for regular clubs to participate against "the best clubs and National teams of the world competing in 5 different age classes. (A-U19; B-U16; C-U14; D-U12 11-a-side; E-U12 7-a-side)" as it states on the MIC information for this year's tournament.

Here are the U12 Groups for 11 v 11. Just a note that in Spain at the U12 boys age group they are normally still playing 7v7 and would begin 11 a side at the U13 age group(infantil) and all age groups are 2 year groups exactly like the tournament age groups. On the female side the game is often still played 7v7 at U16. I will write an article on the not-so-distant future on the women's game here.

As some may or may not know as a family we have relocated from Canada to Vic, a small town north of Barcelona. Vic has a couple clubs in town but Vic Riuprimer REFO FC had 3 teams in the tournament, U16, U14 and U12(11V11). As one would imagine as a child you look forward to these types of events and tournaments and my son was no different. He was a player on the U12 team going to the MIC. As I mentioned earlier, teams in Spain play 7v7 and our team had some sessions leading up to the tourney to playing 1 full field game but it didn't matter because this was the MIC. This would be perhaps the one time in your futbol "career" that you may have the chance to play against one of the world's bigger clubs and in our case it would be Real Madrid who was in our group.

Real Madrid was looking for payback as Vic Riuprimer had beaten Real Madrid in the Powerade Cup 7v7 just before Christmas. This was the 3rd tournament that my son had been involved in and all of them involved the same "cultural" aspects. The biggest whether it was a single day tournament or a week tournament, all players stayed with their team and coaching staff all day. I have been involved in many tourneys in Canada as a parent or coach and parents usually take their kids between games and often do their own things. Whether they go back to a hotel, go to McDonalds for a "nutritious" breakfast or a Tim Hortons to get their coffee. My point is that rarely do teams stay together for a whole day with players and coach only. I touched upon this in a previous post about the lack of culture in the game at home and the need to build it in our game to improve the overall experience for all parties involved. You are able to build team camaraderie in a natural way. Instead of spending a ton of money in a manufactured way to get the kids together and many times its more about the parents than the players themselves but that's another story.

In Spain and much of Europe, the week of Easter is a break from school for kids and this week couldn't come fast enough for the players involved. Tuesday, March 31 at 15:00 was the time that the teams would depart and even though we live 500m from the stadium where the bus would leave from, we had to make sure we left early so we were not late. So we left at 14:30 and got there at 14:31. We were 29 minutes early and everyone had showed up at the same time as all the players wanted to get to the the stadium and start their experience off early. You could see how excited the players were, as a team and coaching staff they would be together until Sunday when they would come back. Parents would only be able to see their children before a game for 2-3 mins and perhaps 10-15 minutes after the game before the bus would take them to the hotel. No parent chaperones or players travelling with the parents, it was the team and the team only for the next 6 days, win or lose.

The team was drawn into a group with Fundacio Esportiva Begur, USA Soccer Stars and of course Real Madrid which I already mentioned. But this was more about a tourney, it was time away with no parents, a time to become friends perhaps with other kids which you may not have a chance to spend a lot of time with regularly and for some an experience to live like a pro for a few days. As soon as the coaches said, time to go, the players didn't hesitate to start loading their baggage and get on the bus with the U14s. You can tell how excited they were but most were playing it cool, just like 'pros', I have done this before and mom/dad, "I will see you at the game tomorrow."

So off the bus went full of U12s and U14s and coaching staff to the Costa Brava, full of hotels, beaches and a projected week of great weather in the low 20s ˚C. We said one out the door as we have 4 boys and 3 more still at home, lol. We had an evening tournament on deck for our youngest. The weather was great, it was 25˚C and what better reason to be outside than to watch some youth futbol in the evening and then depart in the morning for the Costa Brava for some sightseeing during the day and the first match for the U12 team at 19:00. So we departed from Vic around 1100 and the GPS said it would take 1 hour and 35 minutes. We haven't really run into much traffic in Spain like back home and most of the drives have been nice and relaxing and this one was no different. Scenery of mountains, palm trees and sunshine made this an enjoyable trek. We stopped in the beachside town of Begur to check the beach out, have some lunch and then onto the match which everyone is excited about, the parents I think just as much as the players.

We got to the stadium around 1745 just before the team arrived on the bus. All the parents were waiting to see their little stars because we all know its been just over 24 hours. I could hear some moms asking if they slept ok, did they eat ok, was the bus ok? All the boys said, "mom I am fine", as they shrugged them off to say we have a game to play. They spoke for a few minutes with parents, siblings and some friends and off to the dressing rooms for match preparation.

In Spain it is normal to be at the stadium 1 hour before the game. It varies in Canada from 1 hour to 5-10 minutes and again there should be preparation time before a game to go over goals of the game, some instructions and then its the player's time to do their thing, the "match". It's not acceptable practice that kids come running out of the car straight onto the pitch fully dressed "ready" to go although we know how ready that player is.This practice is not accepted by most but it needs to be averted by coaches.

The North American way of life is a very busy lifestyle spent in the car most days but games don't only last for the duration of the match but also some preparation and some quick reflexion time after. I hate to be the one who always compares things to hockey but it's the norm to be there one hour before the game and I realize most pitches don't have change rooms but the same can be accomplished. As game time approached there was a buzz in the air, excitement for parents, fans, tournament organizers and the locals who came out to support the local team F.E. Begur who was our opponent. As I mentioned it was warm and still sunny, perfect for the spectator and maybe a bit warm for the players. As the players walked out by the referee, the parents started singing and applauding their teams. The kids were excited and who wouldn't be excited to play in front of a packed house, parents shouting, singing, whistling for the game to begin and hopefully for their side to win. The MIC 2015 edition for us was about to begin.

The first part of the game was nerve racking for all involved, the players, coaches and of course the parents. Everybody wanted to start the tournament off with a win and a good start. There were plenty of mistakes but we started to dominate possession and were inching close to an opening goal. We had a few good opportunities that we came close to opening the scoring but it wasn't until the the 12th minute that we did from some good individual work to get a cross in for a first touch finish.

The boys were ready to take control of this match and were knocking the ball around with some confidence. Their one friendly match of 11v11 was starting to show :). Positioning was good, and a lot of open space was being presented to them although they were unable to get a 2nd before the half was over. The team was full of confidence going into the 2nd half and grabbed a 2nd goal at the end to secure a 2-0 victory in Game 1. Next match was 1200 noon on Thursday vs the powerful Real Madrid. After the match the "pros" came outside to grace us with their presence and spend a few minutes with their "fans". Then it was off to their bus to the hotel for some dinner and relaxation for their next match. Thursday approached and there was more tension in the air for the players and the parents.

Just hearing that our opponent was Real Madrid provided caution to the players and of course playing one of the biggest clubs in the world was nothing to frown at. As part of the MIC tourney both teams are transported to the pitch on the same bus. So as we are waiting to catch a glimpse of our kids before the match to ask again if they slept well, ate well and feel good for their match the bus had pulled in. The players entered the stadium and they were behind a fence so the parents were giving them high fives and getting a few words in. My son told me he had a match to play and he will speak to me after the game. I said good luck and talk to you later. My 11 year was all grown up now, game face was on and has come quite a long way from playing in the Peel Halton Development League to playing against Real Madrid.

It was finally game time, another warm day and hopefully our boys were ready to play this game. Again the crowd was excited and boisterous, this was the norm for this tournament. A packed house which was very vocal and participated in cheering and were not afraid to let the referee know how he was doing and in most cases people were pretty busy letting him know how bad he was. We placed a decent game defensively and didn't generate a lot of attack. At the beginning of this tourney the Technical Director had let all the parents know that playing time was going to be as close to 50/50 as possible. The saying in Catalan is "mes or menys" meaning more or less so he said don't go to the match with a stop watch. One thing I found strange is that we had 16 players and 15 played 50% or more and 1 player just under 50%.

Real Madrid had 18 players and only 12 or 13 made it onto the pitch and the rest didn't even play a minute. I don't know if it was a rotational thing or they were going for the win with their perceived best players. Perhaps they didn't want to lose to Vic a small club twice in a short period but in the end Real Madrid scored in the last minute of the game. The boys were disappointed but they can always say that they lost in the last minute to Real Madrid. Part of their loss was mental and having in their mind this was Real Madrid surely helped in a few mistakes on the pitch. Nothing to be ashamed of but a must win later in the day vs USA Soccer Stars was needed to guarantee a place in the championship round.

Full game can be found here in 2 parts

Fast forward to 7pm and the stage was set to play USA Soccer Stars from California. The crowd once again was boisterous and the winner was set to go through. As the players were being led by the referee to begin the match which is common in all league games here, I noticed one thing that was not quite what we are used to. The field of play was full of paparazzi. It was usually reserved for players but parents wanted to get their photos and who was going too stop them.

The game started quite well for us as we had placed a lot of pressure on the team from California. They were really against the wall and were limited to a few counter attacks that quickly fizzled out. Our breakthrough came in the 12th minute with our first goal

We continued to press and probably should have had a few more goals but the next goal came from the USA Soccer Stars. Game tied 1-1. Then in the 25th minute we had a lucky break off a free kick with a goalkeeping error to make the score 2-1 in our favour at halftime.

The 2nd half became another scrappy affair but we held on to win 2-1. We finished tied on points with Real Madrid who somehow lost to FE Begur but placed second to them because of our loss to them. The boys were excited and you could see it as they came off the field. They knew they were on to the next round and the celebrations began from the field to the dressing room and on the bus. Of course the celebrations didn't begin until the USA Soccer Stars were dropped off at their hotel.

Parents cheering for the coaches after the match

Celebrating on the bus once the opposing team was dropped off at their hotel

Full Match Vic Riuprimer v USA Soccer Stars

goals at 8:24, 17:50 and 19:20

Everybody went home happy and once again we were all looking forward to the round of 16 clash with Catalonian rivals EC Granollers the next day. It was another beautiful sunny day for our round of 16. The players prepared the same for their 12:00 game. As they walked into the stadium they looked focused and ready to move on to the 1/4s and hopefully a match against giants Manchester United. This game began very scrappy as there was a lot of noise from all the fans and probably revved up both teams but it was Vic Riuprimer who opened the scoring in the 12th minute.

1st goal v Granollers in the 12the minute

It wasn't a pleasant affair and chippy throughout and was still 1-0 at 50 mins. The referee had signalled to play 2 minutes of added time and ended up playing 5 minutes for no known reason but of course EC Granollers equalized in the 55th minute, the whistle blew and it was straight to the dreaded penalty kicks. As it has it, we lost 4-3 in PKs and everything was turned upside down in a few minutes.

Penalty Kicks 4-3 loss, MIC 2015

A few minutes before we were looking forward to a match with Man United and now we were not looking forward to a drive home. It's amazing how sport affects you from feeling joy one minute and being upset the next. This is futball and what makes it so great, but in this case would have been nice to be on the winning side. A video of the fans/parents applauding the players off after the disappointing shoot out loss.

EC Granollers went on to lose 1-0 to Man United in the 1/4s, Man United was then defeated by Real Madrid 1-0 in the semis and Real Madrid defeated FC Barcelona 1-0 in the finals.

It was a fantastic experience for the boys all week and one that many will never get again as their futbol journey may end for whatever reason. And what started out as an adventure full of smiles ended with a swollen eyes and a long face, but the journey continues until next time.

Disappointed but the journey continues

In speaking to parents from the US over the course of the tournament, many had mentioned that their players were nervous. They were not used to the noise of the fans, the drums, the chanting, the yelling at the referees, the booing of calls etc. The same is not common in Canada and it takes some getting used to in the beginning since I have been here. This point touches upon the mental aspect of the game and an area that most players in Canada are weak in. There are not enough high quality games and most are not wars. Every game at the MIC for us had a war mentality and each player battled. This has not changed from the regular games to this tournament and a testament to all the players and the staff and the way the game is played here. It's in area that is difficult to improve in Canada but until the game is taken seriously not much will change at all.

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