The holidays are often a time to relax, unwind, and once you have cleared your head of the drudgery of daily life, are a great opportunity to reflect on the things you’ve done well.
It also presents you with the occasion to find deeper insight into the sort of things you want to improve in the future. Such is the case for Chuck Martini, head coach of the Muscat Football Academy. With the academy now entering its summer break, Martini and the rest of his coaches, as well as their stable of young and talented players, can now use this annual halftime break to look back on some of the things they achieved, both tangibly and – more importantly – intangibly.
Muscat Football Academy – mighty, mighty MFA as they are lovingly called – have achieved much in the first half of 2018. Their achievements have in fact taken place across the good portion of the known world, from the Catalonian region of Spain to Abu Dhabi in the Middle East, via Verona in Italy.
Earlier this year, Muscat Football Academy’s best and brightest young footballers travelled to the Mundialito (Spanish for Little World Cup), an annual tournament that features some of the finest youth teams from across the world, including Barcelona, FC Porto, Sporting Lisbon, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Juventus and Liverpool, among others.
Teams from far and wide had come to Mundialito: Turkey sent four teams (Besiktas, Altinordu, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce), Kashima Antlers flew in all the way from Japan, Australia sent in their national development side, Club America represented Mexico, and outfits had also come in from Argentina, South Africa, Canada and the United States. “There is no tournament like it, simply because we are going to be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Liverpool, all the big names and their academies come to this tournament,” said Martini, a former Morocco national team goalkeeper. “They are in the limelight all week and it is like a junior world cup. I am glad that my under-9s and my under-11s got to experience all this. The players are so excited and they couldn’t wait until they get on that plane. The hype of it all is worth it because it is a wonderful tournament and a true spectacle.
“You wouldn’t call them children if you see them playing because there are some very special talents,” added Martini, who was goalkeeping coach for AFC Wimbledon. “It is a massive, once-in-a-lifetime experience. None of my players would’ve seen themselves play on TV. It’s taken very seriously over there and is broadcast live. Secondly, they are going to be rubbing shoulders with the cream of Europe. You are talking about the best young players in the world.”
“Especially for an Arab kid, to go into this mentality can be difficult, because here, things aren’t given to them so easily in terms of what you get in the Middle East in terms of the standards, but when they come here, it’s a real eye-opener for them,” added Mark Oliver, a senior coach at MFA. But while one MFA outfit were headed to Europe, another were making the short trip to Abu Dhabi, where MFA were the only Omani team that had been invited to take part in the Manchester City cup, a pan-GCC tournament that saw academies come in from all over the region, and further beyond.
While the under-12s did win glory in the form of the City Silver Plate Trophy to cap their unbeaten record, the under-14s were cruelly unlucky to lose on penalties to professional Romanian side CFR Cluj, whose senior team are regular participants in the Champions League, and are coached by former Chelsea defender Dan Petrescu.
Shortly after Mundialito, three teams consisting of players who’d travelled to Abu Dhabi and Spain excelled at the Gulf Cup in Dubai. The Under-13 B team won the trophy cup, the U-13 A’s won the Gold Cup, and the U-15s also earned gold to make history.
“This was a fantastic achievement from both teams at the academy,” said Martini. “The under-12 team featured seven Omani players and this shows that they have developed well and are heading in the right direction to fulfil their dreams. Both teams have given a big boost for the academy. The teams are very special to me because I’ve coached some for four years, since the opening of the academy, and they have improved so much.”
But if MFA’s lads thought their trips to Europe were over for the year, they were wrong: Martini had organised a trial six talented lads at Hellas Verona, who will be playing in Serie A, Italy’s top division, after once again clinching promotion this year. Three of them are on the verge of signing professional contracts, but more on that as it comes.
Until then, it’s time to sit back and relax. If you can, that is. There are others who cannot wait for the second half to begin.