On the ball: Oman goes to the Mundialito

Lifestyle Tuesday 27/March/2018 18:45 PM
By: Times News Service
On the ball: Oman goes to the Mundialito

While most sport pieces in this column are written in sunny Oman, this particular one isn’t. You may be reading this on a Wednesday morning, but this article comes to you from Barcelona, Spain, where the Times of Oman travelled with the Muscat Football Academy (MFA) as they enter the world-famous Mundialito youth football tournament.
“Mundialito stands for Little World Cup,” said Chuck Martini, the head coach of MFA. “It was started by Ricardo Godoy, a former professional who played for Argentina. This year is their 25th anniversary. 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.”
“It really is a showpiece event and a fantastic tournament for all these young footballers,” added the former Leicester City and Tottenham 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 are going to experience all this. The players are so excited and they can’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,” he added.
They might be youngsters, but Chuck asks people not to judge them by what’s on the surface. Looks, as he reminds, can be deceiving. “You wouldn’t call them children if you see them playing because there are some very special talents,” said the former Morocco international. “Our under-9s, who were our under-8s last year, managed to get all the way to the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup of the actual Mundialito, where they got knocked out by the eventual finalists who then lost to Barcelona. That shows you the kind of company we were keeping. My under-9s are pretty confident and cocky and that is the way I want them to be, going into this tournament.” “Our under-11 side, last year, was a very strong team,” added Chuck, who represented his country at the 1994 Fifa World Cup in the United States. “Unfortunately, four or five of them are too old to be playing this year, we went all the way to the finals of the Silver Cup last year, and I know of a few parents who will be moaning about the dodgy refereeing. The preparations are all but complete and we look forward to get going.”
“It is a massive, once-in-a-lifetime experience,” admitted the former football manager. “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. If you are in the Barcelona, Atletico Madrid or Bayern Munich junior teams, then you have a very special talent, because these clubs don’t just pick players from their areas, but all over the world. They sign players globally,” he said.
While Chuck’s players may only live in Oman, he’s looking forward to seeing how his team plays against the best of the best.
“It puts us as a disadvantage because we only take players into our academy when they live in little Muscat,” he revealed. “It’s not like I have access to all the best players in Oman, for example. That would really be a great team to try and form, because I think the Omanis and the expats have a lot of talent. There is a great mix here with some of the expats coming from Germany or England, combined with the beach football or samba skills that you find in Oman.”
“Our academy has produced two fantastic players from a very young age,” he added. “Mees Eppink is now playing at European giants Ajax, and our very own Omani talent Tariq Al Saadi, who is now at Aston Villa. We have produced a couple of players from the academy to go on to the professional game at the top European side, albeit in the junior levels at the moment, and they have a long, long way ahead of them, but we feel that we gave them the start to go and fulfil their dreams,” he said.
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