Muscat: A goalkeeper who trains with the Muscat Football Academy is set to join the academy setup of English Football Championship outfit Fulham FC.
Mees Eppink, a 10-year-old who trains with MFA’s Under-11 side, had a trial with the London-based club earlier this season and is all set to make the move to the British capital next season.
Speaking exclusively to Times of Oman, his father Pascal, who originally hails from the Netherlands, said he was excited for his son to sign for such a prestigious outfit, but added that he would approach the situation pragmatically.
“My wife and I are very happy for Mees to join Fulham,” said Eppink Sr. “Of course, he is only 10 years old and I need to work here so moving back to Europe is not a decision we can take lightly.”
“I spoke to the club and told them about my work situation,” adds Mr. Eppink. “They were very understanding about it and asked Mees to come and train with them during the Christmas break once school ends, and then they will sign him in 2017.”
Mees first caught the eye of European football scouts at the Mundialto Cup in April this year, an annual youth tournament that features the likes of FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, AFC Ajax, Valencia CF, FC Porto, Sporting Lisbon and Mexican side Club America among many others.
With Mees in goal, the Muscat Football Academy reached the quarter-finals of the silver division of the tournament.
“When he was at the tournament, there was interest from quite a few European clubs,” recalls Mr. Eppink. “Fulham then saw him and they called him to London for a trial. Normally they would call him for one day and then another trial would be a few days later but because Mees did not live in England, they kept him on trial for many days together.
“They were very impressed with him and wanted to sign him for the Under-11s in the academy for the current season, but we explained our situation to them and they were very understanding about it”
Former Leicester City and Morocco national team goalkeeper Chuck Martini is currently the Head Coach for Muscat Football Academy, and gave current Fulham keeper Marcus Bettinelli his very first taste of football when he was manager of Godalming Town, a club that play in the seventh tier of English football.
In Mees, Martini seems to have had a telling influence on yet another goalkeeping prodigy.
“I’ve been a goalkeeper myself, so I knew there was something special in Mees when I saw him the first time,” explains Martini. “When I first started this academy, it was to give the talent here the platform to prove their skills and I am very happy to have given that to Mees. Having tasted the fruits of Fulham’s academy first-hand, Martin knows he will flourish under current Fulham academy goalkeeping coach Victor, Marcus’ father.
Mees’ ability to exhibit his talent even under pressure was something Martini discovered when he decided to throw him into the deep end, putting him in goal for the Under-14s at the prestigious Volkswagen Junior Masters Tournament, a prestigious global youth tournament.
The Muscat Football Academy went all the way to the semis of the Oman leg of the tournament, with Mees winning Player of the Tournament for his antics in goal.
“I always knew he had talent, but I wanted to see if he could perform under pressure in a real game, and he did that very well,” recalls Martini. “He was only nine at the time but he was playing with kids who were three or four years older to him and he was very good throughout the tournament.
“In fact, we owe our place in the semi-finals to him because we went through on penalties and he made the winning save.”
“I know the people at Fulham and they will definitely help him develop his skills so for him to make the move there is very good for him,” he finished.
And how is Mees, the boy at the centre of all this attention dealing with it? “I am of course very happy to move to Fulham, but I have some work to do before that,” says Mees. “Coach says I need to improve my footwork and be more vocal when it comes to collecting corners and communicating with my defenders.”
“My dream one day is to play for Ajax, and then play for one of the big clubs in Europe such as real Madrid or Barcelona,” adds Mees, who rates current Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen and Manchester United legend Edwin van der Sar as his idols.
“It is a great opportunity for me to go to England and play football, but I know there will be many challenges for me at Fulham,” he continues. “I really enjoyed it the
Mees’ father though isn’t letting this nascent success get to his son. “My wife and I always told him, if you don’t want to play football we will completely understand,” he explains.
“In any football team there are only one or two goalkeepers and it is very easy to lose your place, so you need to work hard and be humble at all times, but Mees already knows all these things.”
“He’s a good boy, and he’s got a good head on his shoulders,” adds Martini. “His parents are very nice people and they will make sure he stays in line.”
Martini is hoping Mees’ success will inspire others to follow the same path, and one day hopes for Omani players to make names for themselves at clubs overseas.
“Right now, in Oman, we don’t have the sort of system that will allow the youth to develop here. We need more academies, and a proper youth setup to ensure young players get the chance to play football in Oman.
“If young players go overseas to academies and prove themselves there, it can only help Oman’s national team in the long run.”
Source: Times of Oman