Thursday, 14 June, 2012 | 18:14 WIB
Training Them Young: Producing Future Soccer Superstars
TEMPO Interactive, Jakarta:The fog blurred the lights and the cold piercing wind penetrated my thick jacket. It was minus 4 degrees Celcius that night in early March. The hour was 10 p.m. and people were cycling through the streets of Amsterdam.
At the Olympiaplein, a sports complex built for the 1928 Olympics, children were still practicing their ball skills. Their shirts were wet. I thought to myself: these kids are radical when it comes to soccer.
As such is commonplace in the city of a thousand canals. In soccer fields in different locations, kids in uniforms still play soccer, even on rainy evenings. Snow and cold weather never deters their will to practice.
The soccer fields, for those who choose to follow ‘the path of soccer’, also serve as a display counter. At these premises the players are competing to gain the attention of talent scouts and. Some players are recruited by Europe’s major soccer clubs, while a few will be selected for the national team.
They climb their way to the top from an academy. Ajax Amsterdam’s De Toekomst Academy, for instance, goes across the country to search for talent. The academy, meaning “The Future” in English, scouts every soccer field.
The appraised child will then be invited to try out the academy’s training facilities. De Toekomst has eight soccer fields and two buildings for locker rooms, classrooms, coach offices and scientists’ laboratories. There are around 200 children practicing in the academy aged between 7 and 19.
The children go to a half-day school and are then picked up by the Ajax bus. After practice, they continue their studies with a special tutor. The exclusive facilities come at no cost. The children’s families are only required to pay 12 euros or around Rp200,000 per year for insurance. The club pays for the rest of the expenses including for training, uniform, equipments and transportation.
The New York Times released a lengthy report on De Toekomst. The article said that children practice until late in the academy. Those who are 12 years old practice three times a week plus a match on the weekends while 15 year olds are required to practice five times a week.
In addition to hard training, the academy also gives time for the children to socialize. “They have a family, we don’t want to take that away from them,” said Jan Olde Riekerink, the academy’s director. “They can still hangout with their peers. Sometimes, that is more important that anything else: to learn how to carry the ball without instruction from anyone.”
Each year, the club evaluates its players. Technique and physique are the determining factors. Players must fulfill certain standards such as running speed, heart rate, height and the proportion of feet to other body parts is also calculated. Those who do not meet the requirements are sent home.
Talented players are a treasure for European clubs. Wesley Sneijder is a good illustration. Sneijder joined De Toemkost at the age of seven. Sixteen years later, Spanish club Real Madrid bought him for 27 million euros, or Rp320 billion. Today, the Dutch national team’s midfielder is playing for the Italian club Inter Milan.
Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro followed a similar path. He was discovered by a talent scout from a local club in Portugal, Andorinha, when he was 8 years old. The boy then became the most expensive player in 2009 when Real Madrid bought him from Manchester United for 94 million euros, or Rp1.1 trillion.
However, being in the national team is considered a peak achievement. That is why defender Rio Ferdinand was upset when Roy Hodgson, British coach, did not call his name. When watching a match between Poland and Ukraine, we are witnessing the fruits of their long labor.
The European Football Championship as well as other tournaments such as the World Cup is considered to be the highest accomplishment for those who have chosen the arduous road of soccer at such a young age.
Budi Setyarso, TEMPO Reporter