This week 16 of the world’s best unsigned young footballers took part in two specially organised training sessions delivered by England Manager Roy Hodgson and Under-21 Head Coach Stuart Pearce at St. George’s Park.
The budding starlets are candidates in Nike’s The Chance initiative, a unique global talent search that looks to unearth the best amateur players giving them the opportunity to earn one of three places in Nike’s prestigious Nike Academy.
The two-day training camp at the national football centre formed the last leg of a five-week selection process that has taken the players to some of the best training centres around the world.
“The venue is amazing. It facilitates players with everything they need to develop,” beamed Jose Figura when asked his thoughts on how St. George’s Park compares.
He was joined in his admiration by fellow candidate Bubakary Sonko.
He added: “It is a really nice facility. We have enjoyed the day and have been on a tour of the park and everyone loves it.
“This venue is something special. The many pitches and the hotels are most beautiful. It is nice to be somewhere so natural and to not be disturbed.”
Over the two days, the players were given full access to the facility including use of the indoor and outdoor pitches, the hotels and the centre’s suite of hydrotherapy and sports rehabilitation services.
To add to their St. George’s Park experience, Pearce and Hodgson were on hand to deliver specialist training sessions that allowed Nike’s head Chance scout Jimmy Gilligan further opportunity to assess the players’ suitability for selection.
Figura added: “Being able to train with England international coaches has been great because they have a lot of experience.
“It was just great to take on their knowledge and bring it into my game.
“Both coaches focused on movement, which is important with the way football is developing nowadays.
“Players are getting faster and stronger, so it is important to be on the move and to be able to lose your marker.”
St. George’s Park is one of a number of elite training facilities the players have visited in recent weeks.
The group have enjoyed visits to Juventus’ training ground, the USSF in Los Angeles and Manchester United’s Training Centre at Carrington.
While in Turin the players also trained with Juventus manager Antonio Conte, whose session, as Figura explains, highlighted some of the core differences between the English and Italian playing philosophies
“The English game is probably the best in the world, the football is of a high level and so here we focused on the movement," he explained.
“In Juventus it was a bit slower, more composed and defensive and more about getting into the shapes.”
For aspiring Swedish centre-forward, Sonko, Pearce’s attacking-focused training session proved an especially valuable part of the experience.
“To have that kind of person with such a high profile makes it much better. The focus was attacking and how to turn out the body when you get the ball.
“Some players just take the ball and stand still, but you need to be aware of what is behind you so that you can turn out or receive the ball.”
The visit shone more light on to St. George’s Park’s accessibility to participants of the game at all levels, as well as its dedication to providing the right platform to aid in the development of young football players.
Figura added: “First off, the venue is obviously a great venue. There are all the different things to help players develop their strengths and work on their weaknesses.
“[Accessibility] is important because you want people to come here and develop their game and I think [St. George’s Park] gives young players the correct things to do just that.”
The Nike Academy is a full-time player academy based in England and supported by The FA Premier League.
Since its inception, The Chance competition has seen 16 players earn professional contracts with Australian, Tom Rogic, most recently signing for Celtic FC. For further details on The Chance, click here.
The 16 finalists on the tour are as follows:
Ismail H¹Maidat (Belgium), Dario Van Den Buijs (Belgium), Dimitris Komnos (Greece), Marco Vinicius Di Lauro (Italy), Ryosuke Kinoshita (Japan), Kirill Laptev (Russia), Petar Golubovic (Serbia), Teboho Charlie Tsotetsi (South Africa), Saifeddine Alami Bazza (Spain), Gonzalo Balbi (Spain), Bubakary Sonko (Sweden), Jose Figura (United Kingdom), Brian Iloski (United States), Kevin Salazar Chiquiza (Colombia), Joel Bravo (Ecuador) and Fernando Canales (Peru).