Nike U16 International Friendlies Tour
Friday 17 January 2014By ESFA Office
December 2013, Florida, USA
Travel and Preparation
Players and staff assembled at the Burnham Beeches Hotel near Slough on Tuesday 3rd December 2013. Kit was distributed to all and passports collected as an FA official would go in advance of the main party to ease the booking in process at Gatwick Airport. The whole party met after dinner with team manager Kenny Swain officially welcoming all and introducing the FA delegates and Gerry Smith from the ESFA.
After a Wednesday flight of nearly 10 hours and an hour coach journey to the hotel the whole party met with the team management to outline the programme for the week which would include three International matches against Brazil, Portugal and the USA. The experience would incorporate a whole host of physical and educational demands on the players which the team management would track with the help of the scientific and medical support included in the thirteen staff backing the twenty young players.
Training days prior to the first match
Thursday 5th and Friday 6th December followed the same pattern of breakfast, training, lunch and education hour where boys were closely supervised and helped with the work that had been provided by their schools. As the training venue was 30 minutes from the hotel the sessions were longer than originally planned and incorporated a variety of individual and whole team tasks and practices. Every aspect of the training programmes were meticulously planned with the medical support team ensuring that a plentiful supply of water, sun cream and mosquito spray was on hand.
The sports scientist monitored work outputs via the use of a movement GPS with the doctor checking fluid intake and loss by careful checking of the players weights. The FA had certainly spared no expense in finding the stars of tomorrow. Both sessions were recorded by the video analyst who also was able to film all the goalkeepers in action during their practices with the goalkeeping coach. Much of this material was ultimately used to identify individual and team strengths and weaknesses and assist the selection process for the first match the following Monday.
Saturday and Sunday 7th and 8th December signalled an emphasis of more specific small game and team based activities in the training schedules. The support medical team were ensuring that recovery was carefully monitored to avoid injury with the provision of ice baths and pool warm downs as there were no changing facilities at the sports ground. The players were also given the opportunity for some free time with accompanied visits to the local beach and a visit to Sarasota town centre to see the Christmas lights opening evening.
England V Brazil - Monday 8th December
A 2pm kick off meant a lie in for the boys and a late breakfast followed by a 40 minute journey to the sports field. Arriving at the ground an hour before the kick off the medical / physio team put their well-practised warm up drills into operation with the assistant coach Danny Micciche finalising preparations with conditional games and passing activities. Twenty five minutes before kick off the Brazilians were still nowhere in sight with the American organisers getting visibly concerned. A few minutes later they arrived in kit and immediately went into a fairly casual warm up before being moved onto the pitch by the referee for pre kick off announcements and national anthems. The business end of the trip had at last arrived
England started brightly equalling the Brazilians for possession and technical ability and after twenty minutes took the lead with some intricate passing from defence into midfield and a defence splitting through ball saw the England centre forward Kaylen Hinds sprint pass the centre half coolly sliding the ball pass the onrushing keeper. England continued to press forward but the momentum of the match suddenly changed when the Brazilian left winger rounded his full back and pulled the ball back for the centre forward to blast home an excellent worked goal. The England team seemed to retreat defensively and gave away a soft goal from a short corner a few minutes later. Half time arrived with a deflated England team trailing 2-1. The second half was fairly even in regards to possession but England pressing strongly had two clear cut chances in the last ten minutes but failed to capitalise on their good approach work and passing. The final score Brazil 2 England 1.
England V USA – Wednesday 11th December
After a restful morning, and a light training day on the previous day, England travelled to the Lakewood Ranch Sports complex for an early evening floodlit kick off against the USA. The spectator count increased considerably for this game with approximately 1000 in attendance seated on the temporary stands. Kenny Swain the manager selected a much changed team from the first game ensuring all the players after 2 games had started a game for their country.
England started brightly but was soon being pushed back in midfield by a very mobile and athletic American team. Poor defensive work and distribution by the English back four caused a number of problems for themselves and it was no surprise when the American team took the lead after 10 minutes. England attempted to move forward but were being constantly dispossessed and overrun in midfield by the opposition. The situation worsened in the fifteenth minute when the Americans scored their second after an excellent shot across the English keeper zoomed into the top corner of the net. Half time arrived with England losing 2-0. Two changes at the start of the second half seemed to galvanise the English boys and three minutes into the restart the diminutive but talented Marcus Edwards scored direct from a 20 yard free curling the ball with his left foot into the top right hand corner of the goal. England kept pressing and were rewarded when the referee gave England a penalty kick for a foul on Kaylen Hinds. However, midfielder Nabay waited for thirty seconds to take the kick while goalkeeper and defenders were checked for correct placement by the referee. This resulted in him missing the spot kick and with it went England`s hope of retrieving the game. Two minutes later the Americans broke away from the pressing English defence to score a third. This signalled the end of collective defending and effort from England and in the last 15 minutes the Americans dominated possession scoring two further goals from centre forward Gallardo who completed his hat trick to make the final score 5-1. This was a poor result and the team will have to improve dramatically to beat the Portuguese, who earlier in the day drew 1-1 with the Brazilians.
England V Portugal - Friday 13th December
The last match of the tour was preceded with a light training session under floodlights on Thursday 12th at the impressive IMG performance centre near Sarasota. This complex incorporates an all-weather athletics track and multi -sport facility and perhaps would have been a more appropriate location for the international matches with spectating facilities for about 4000 individuals.
This match was England`s best performance that included a stirring second-half performance that saw them come from behind twice to defeat Portugal 4-3. After falling behind to a penalty from Sambu on nine minutes, the team at last showed their fighting spirit as Adam Phillips equalised following an assist from Kaylen Hinds on 41 minutes.
Portugal soon found themselves in front again just seven minutes later, Centeno finishing off a neat move to meet Correia’s cross from the right, but England were not to be deterred in their quest for victory. William Patching soon equalised directly from a free-kick, and Hinds turned the game on its head on 68 minutes after an assist from Christopher Willock.
Willock then added his name to the score sheet, finding the far left corner from the right after picking up possession from Hinds. Portugal rallied and responded quickly, Sambu grabbing his second of the evening, but the England defence held firm to record an impressive victory.
Overall England finished equal third on points with the Portuguese with the American Team winning the title with two wins but a better goal difference than the Brazilians whom they defeated 3-1 in the last game of the day.
Travelling home on Saturday 15th seemed easier after the previous day`s victory and performance against Portugal. All the players and staff gathered at lunch time after a morning recovery visit to the beach. Manager Kenny Swain congratulated the players on their efforts throughout the tour during training and the three matches. Although results were disappointing overall the whole learning experience was a good grounding for their footballing future and all the young players need to continue to improve for future selection in tournaments in February and April. Players were also reminded to be sensible on the last night together as on the odd occasions careers were put in jeopardy over last night behaviour on previous tours.
Staff were thanked and presented with England shirts as a memento of the tour. FA Council member Dave Simpson added his congratulations and wished all the players and staff success in the future.
Comments and Observations
From start to finish this FA tour was well organised, staffed and funded. Accommodation and food at the luxurious Ritz Carlton Sarasota was superb with every on- site facility available for players and staff. With ten working FA staff, players were always well supervised and behaviour though out the tour was impeccable wherever the group were – in the hotel, at the match venue or on visits.
The Education hour was usually supervised by Craig Simmons with an input from Gerry Smith and on occasions, manager Kenny Swain. Players had work with them from their schools as listed on their personal record sheets. Quality and the amount of work output during the week varied greatly as would be expected from a group of Year 10/11 boys of different abilities. Every player had their work checked at the end of the week and comments made on their record sheet as to their task completion and effort. (Non use of phones during the hour may promote a more focused and studious approach.)
The location for training and International Matches was not an appropriate venue in regards to travelling distance from the hotel. Two training sessions a day were originally planned but this had to be changed to one because of these problems. As there were no showers and only chemical toilets available one training session for approximately 2 hours was organised. Warm down and showers had to wait until a return to the hotel.
The tour overall was a fantastic experience for players and officials alike. Hotel facilities were magnificent and the young players were superbly looked after both on and off the pitch by the FA staff. The team, staff and officials will meet again in February when the FA host an under 16 tournament at St Georges Park in February. There is likely to be a number of team changes as this is a development squad and a number of players did not perform to their potential during the tour.
Gerry Smith – December 2013