Bengaluru, August 7: Saturday's football sessions are usually about drills, skills and game time for Shayan Abhiraj and Dwayne Arland. This time though, they were learning how to speak fluently and confidently in front of the camera and by the end of the session, the smile widened on their faces - they both were able to express their team Fatima XI Soccer Academy's recent achievements without retakes.
Fatima XI SA, a football coaching centre for children at the Global City International School, Malleshpalya, finished as the runners-up in the Boys' Under-11 category at the Gothia Cup in Sweden and Cup No 1 in Denmark last month. The two tournaments, held for the last 33 years, are essentially football's biggest youth festivals, promoting friendship, peace and development among kids.
The matches in the category are seven-a-side games. While the Cup No 1 took place in Frederikshavn from July 10-14, the Gothia Cup was held in Gothenburg from July 16-21. Fatima XI, playing under the banner of Bangalore Soccer Academy, lost the Gothia Cup final 1-3 to Desert Rangers Dubai and were defeated 1-5 by Euro Sports Brasil in the Cup No 1 summit clash. To put their achievements into perspective, Fatima XI is the first Indian team to reach the finals in the Boys' U-11 category.
"I am already training hard for next year's Gothia Cup," Shayan, who studies in the New Horizon Public School, says. "We reached the finals this time, but the result will be different next time around." Shayan, a striker for Fatima XI, scored twice during the Cup No 1.
"Ha! I scored five goals there," Dwayne, a student of the Bishop Cotton Boys' School, butted in. "I am a centre-half for Fatima XI and the airplane I took to reach Denmark was actually the first time I was travelling in a flight. What's more, I saw twilight during my time there. It was a great experience to say the least."
Clifford Arland, a professional with Amazon India, has been training the boys for about a year for the tournament. He says he realised their potential when they won a tournament in Goa. "We were invited to play a tournament held by the Global School of Sports in Goa and these boys managed to win the tournament," Arland says. "I then thought that an exposure tour of Europe will really help these kids develop their skills and technique and that's how I decided to take them to Sweden and Denmark. Most of these boys are from my camp but I also inducted two others from Pune - Jayden and Justin - into the core of the team. It's because of these two that we actually managed to reach that stage."
Subsequently, the kids got a taste of how a professional team functions during their 14-day tour. They stayed in schools, which were temporarily converted into dorms for the tournament. They played against teams from Germany, Denmark, Brazil, Dubai etc, gaining plenty of experience throughout the trip.
"I am actually really proud of the way they played," Arland says. "There was a match against a team from Peru in particular which shows how talented they are. I adopted a complex structure when it comes to U-11 boys. Instead of playing pass and holding possession of the ball, what we did is change our strategy. We let the opposition come to us and we did space marking and man marking. We didn't play football the way it is played. Very few teams do that and that too in the higher level like the Indian Super League (ISL). Each person was assigned a player to mark and the team, playing first time with this strategy, and at this age, did well. I could realise the potential our children have this country.
"If they could do this in one year, I am sure with proper training and structure, our children could play for the country and go beyond the Asian Cup. Avenues are less for children to grow. If the right platform is given and the environment is made suitable for their growth, we could do wonders."
While Shayan and Dwayne are already excited about next year's tournament, Arland throws a word of caution - it's only they who decide if they really want to grow with the sport.
"My intention to run Fatima XI in Bangalore is to help children get into professional football," Arland says. "The focus is to give knowledge, skills and techniques required for this game. You will have children who want to go professional. Tournaments within the city and matches at the national and international level will enhance their skills. I am looking to keep taking my teams to these tournaments. But making a sport a career will depend on the child, his ability and interest."
For now though, the boys of Fatima XI have to get back to their drills anyways. Silver medals tucked back carefully into their backpacks, they rush into the pitch finally for some game-time during the two-hour-long session. Game on.