EXCLUSIVE: Markus Fjortoft reveals his New York Red Bulls faux pas

GoPlay Sports caught up with Duke central defender Markus Fjortfoft, who told us about growing up immersed in soccer, life in the U.S. at Duke University, his famous father and his recent gaffe…

 

Endearingly Markus Fjortoft tells me about his recent faux pas at the Red Bulls.

“I had a bit of a scare in one of my first sessions,” says Fjortoft. “I f***** up.”

After a summer in the PDL with the New York Red Bulls U-23s, I ask the 23-year-old what is was like getting a glimmer of his dream. ‘How was his experience mixing with the pros in Major League Soccer?’

“I was playing centre-back and Bradley Wright-Phillips, who is a really nice guy, was playing and I went for an interception. I thought I was going to get the ball before him, but I didn’t and I caught his heel and he went down,” Swindon-born Fjortoft tells me.

 

“It was my first session and I said to myself ‘this can’t be happening, I can’t be injuring their best player three days before a game’. I was like ‘s***’ this is not good. I said sorry to him. ‘I’m really sorry I had to go for it,'” he adds, with real concern in his voice.

“After the session he (Wright-Phillips) came in and he was limping and I was thinking ‘you’ve got to be kidding’ and he was like ‘I’m only joking’.

“I went to practice the next day and I came out of the weight room and he was a bit ahead of me and he looked back and he shook my hand and said ‘are you ok, are, how are you doing?’

“He had not forgotten, he was good about it and was a proper nice guy. I respected that.”

MLS goal

Fjortoft tells me his taste of playing with the big boys in MLS, bar the scare, has whetted his appetite for more. His ultimate goal is to play professionally in MLS, a league he believes has improved immeasurably over recent years.

As a child, he modeled himself on David Beckham, literally. Copying the England man’s hairstyle for years after the soccer pin up arrived at the LA Galaxy. Beckham was recruited by the Galaxy in 2007, on a five-year contract to raise the profile of the sport in the US. And Fjortoft is now a believer, a convert from Europe, a by-product from the Beckham era.

“Since I have been here MLS has experienced radical growth and more and more people are interested in it,” Fjortoft enthuses.

“I got interested when Beckham went to the LA Galaxy and had his jersey and a Thierry Henry one when he went to the Red Bulls. Those players just grabbed my attention and now I like watching the league and I follow it and the quality is getting better.

“What is unique about Americans is the amount of resources and hype they invest into their sport. There is no better country to hype of a sporting event than Americans.”

I ask him about his summer spell with the Red Bulls and he confidently tells me “the level is manageable”. The towering centre-back has his sights on January’s MLS Draft and believes his time in New York helped raise his profile.

“Yes, I was there over the summer. It was great and a way for me to get my name out there with the Red Bulls. I lived with a mate, who also plays for the Red Bulls, for two months, and basically I just played football and got the taste of a professionals life,” says Fjortoft.

“I played a lot of games and got the chance to captain the U-23s and I also got a stint training with the first team a couple of times and played against the second team.

‘It was the mental aspect that was a surprise; I hadn’t given that much thought before’

“It was cool playing with players that play for the national team, Sacha Kljestan was there and Shaun Davis who was my captain at Duke. Mike Grella was there, who played for Leeds.

“The lesson I got from it was that this level is manageable, it was a higher level than I’m used to but it is attainable.

“But the big lesson was that it was as mentally exhausting as it was physically. You have to be so concentrated all the time and after those sessions I was so tired. It was the mental aspect that was a surprise and I hadn’t given that much thought before.”

 

Fjortoft can cope though, that’s the overriding impression I get. Duke expect him to go big too. The midfielder turned defender is highly-regarded by all at the North Carolina University.

“The main goal of the PDL was to get my name out there and I got a lot out there in terms of performance and the people that I met,” Fjortfoft says. “For now I have one season left which will hopefully finished in December when we (Duke) win the national championship. After that there is the MLS Draft in January, which I hope to make and then we will see,” adds Fjortoft.

‘I was done with it’

“I’d love to play in the MLS and live out the dream of being a professional player. But I know I have a good education behind me to fall back on if things don’t work out.”

It’s that education which was just as big a pull to America for Fjortoft as Beckham was 10 years ago. Playing in the U-19s for his local side in Norway, Fjortoft made a big decision to leave.

“I was at Baerum in the U19s, I had a few stints with the first team, but I was done with it,” says Fjortoft eloquently, in a manner which belies his age.

“Norway and especially Oslo has become a growing market for players to go to the US. There was been a radical shift in the way the American college soccer was perceived. American soccer had that stigma: ‘You’re going to play in America, why?’

“But over time, players have chosen to go there and combine what I believe is the perfect combination between academics, athletics and the social network that you create. It’s an ideal mix, especially for a growing adult, it helps lay the groundwork for what will come in later life. I prioritised that ahead of signing first-team contracts in Norway.

“I had an honest conversation with myself and my father and I said, ‘what is the best case scenario if I make it in Norway? If I make it in the top tier in Norway, how much will that give me?’

“So I said I want to try America and get myself a brilliant education and I’d love to play in MLS, I just set myself that goal. And I think it has worked out alright so far.”

Late-night texts

His father, Jan Aage Fjortoft, 50, has supported him all the way and continually demands text reports on his son’s progress at all hours of the night.

Fjortoft senior, now back in Norway, had a sterling career in his homeland, England and Germany – a career which Fjortoft junior has immense respect for. But the respect is definitely a two-way thing; I get the feeling father and son are close.

Asked if his father was proud of his decision to move to America, he says: “Yes he is. With the time difference between the US and Norway he will be asking me to send summaries after the games, and say our games finish at 9.30pm, if I haven’t sent him a text he will be contacting me and it will be the middle of the night in Norway and asking me how I did.”

One-time striker for Swindon, Sheffield United, Middlesbrough, Eintracht Franfurt and Barnsley to name a few, Fjortoft senior bagged 20 international goals for Norway. He was a bustling archetypal English centre-forward. Now though, it’s his his social media presence which has all the hallmarks of his blood and thunder approach to playing.

I suggest his father is quite active on Twitter.

“Definitely, that’s an under statement. He’s created quite a name for himself on Twitter and it’s cool to follow,” chuckles Fjortoft.

“I’m proud of him and when we go back to England people recognize him and there are no fan groups in the world with a better memory than English fans.

“He benefited from these clubs when they were in their peak – he was at Swindon and top scorer when they were in the Premier League and he was at Middlesbrough at The Riverside reopening. He was part of a lot of clubs in exciting times in their history,” he adds.

It’s no surprise Fjortoft developed a passion for soccer and he admits he was almost “addicted from birth”.

‘Dad didn’t want me to be a striker to avoid comparisons’

He was born in Swindon and lived there for five years, during his father’s time at Swindon, when they were dining at the top table, and he admits it was glaringly obvious he would get heavily involved in the game.

“It’s kind of inevitable isn’t it? Because when you are with your dad who takes you to everything you’re kind of addicted to it from birth. Being around him on the field, being a mascot and being in the locker room it really just made football part of my blood from very early on.

“I lived in England for the first five years of my life because of my dad. I lived in Swindon, Middlesbrough, Sheffield and Barnsley, forgive me if I’ve got the order wrong. That really shaped my relationship to England,” Fjortoft tells me.

“I have always had this inherent connection to the UK and it’s somewhere I’d like to go back to a some point and live.

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“I’d love to play in the US but for some reason that doesn’t work out and maybe if my circumstances change then I would love to live in England and continue in football because that’s my ultimate passion,  whether it is playing or in some administrative role.”

At 6ft 5in and over 90kg, the atheltic Fjortoft is in the ideal modern-day centre-back mould, but it was his dad who ultimately shaped him from a midfielder to a “ball-playing quarter-back”.

“I didn’t hit puberty until I was 16, that may be a slight exaggeration,” he quips, “but I was the smallest on the field and I was a centre midfielder. I loved scoring goals and going up front.

“Dad didn’t want me to be a striker to avoid comparisons. I was a central midfielder until I was 16 and I loved David Beckham and he has been my hero throughout. I copied his haircuts for five years straight from 8 to 13 and I also loved Frank Lampard and all those box-to-box players,” says Fjortoft.

‘There are times maybe when coach Kerr’s heart skips a beat’

“But when my dad took over the U16s he said ‘I’m going to move you to centre-back’. And at that time I started growing and now I’m 6ft 5in and 93kg and I kind of grew into the role.

“There was a transition period but I’m now a centre-back, who is comfortable with the ball and I envisage the position as like a quarter-back who can control the game from the back.

“It was definitely the right move. There are not enough ball-playing centre-backs around; there are so many central midfielders who are all competing. With age and experience I have picked up defensive learning.”

With three goals from defense for Duke so far this season – his latest last week’s match-winning strike on the road at Syracuse put the Blue Devils in a tie for second place in the Coastal Division – Fjortoft’s cool finishing has not left him and he believes his midfield grounding has helped him develop into the centre-back he is now.

“Yes, definitely. There are times maybe when coach Kerr’s heart skips a beat, when it may not be the right time to play out from the back but I feel very comfortable in doing it, but I believe I have found the right balance between being cynical and trying to play.

“We currently play with a back three who are all comfortable with the ball and we want to leverage that.”

‘Go big or go home attitude’

Fjortoft continues to detail Duke’s three at the back – a system which only became popular again in the EPL last season – and I get the impression he can talk for hours, passionately about systems and tactics.

“It’s a tricky formation to play but if you get it right it can prove so successful. It enables you to overcrowd areas defensively and to be able to engage people in the trapping zone. But also offensively it gives you numbers further forward. It’s a dynamic system,” he adds.

It’s obvious Fjortoft’s love of the game is all-consuming, but in between classes, I ask him how he found the change in playing style from Norway to the U.S.

“It’s definitely different and people say when they move to a new country there is a transition period and for the first few games it was difficult and I had a hard time trying to adjust,” he admits.

“Their (U.S) playing style reflects their overall mindset, they have a ‘go big or go home attitude’ and they go for it. It’s a very intense game here and a lot of back and forth, there are good players, don’t get me wrong and especially in our conference. It’s intense and in my first few games I had never been so tired as a centre-back.

“It was attack, defend, attack, defend…Which was different but now I know the ins and outs of the game.

“There are a lot of good American players and in our conference there are five or six teams that are in the top 10 of the country so you are measuring yourself against the best.

“You have European players and South Americans in there and I’ve played against several English kids from Premier League Academies and the quality is there.”

Resurgence in motivation

He is a firm believer that his experience, both socially and soccer-wise, in other countries has given him a solid footing.

“I am big believer in stepping out of your comfort zone and with that comes growth. Staying in that comfort zone does not allow growth and there is no diversity of challenges to encounter,” he says.

“I was at a good school in Norway and a lot of the kids are doing good things in Norway now, but coming to America has allowed me to not reinvent my career as much, but to give my a resurgence in my motivation. It’s given me new motivation and offered new challenges.

“Chasing a professional contract and being drafted as well as experiencing everything that goes with it very much motivated me.”

After half-an-hour, I have no doubt about Fjortoft’s motivation and drive and I ask him which players have impressed him along the way and who made him hungry for success.

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“In my first year I played with Shaun Davis who is now a starter for the New York Red Bulls. He scored a couple of goals against Chelsea in pre-season a couple of years ago.  He was our captain and I said ‘this guy is something special’.

“It’s so motivating because you see where the benchmark is at and you compare yourself and you see your’e not that far away from it,” says Fjortoft.

After just a brief chat, the affable Fjortoft leaves an imprint of focus, supreme confidence, but also of self-deprecation – a quality not often seen in young athletes. His drive and determination are obvious and it would not be a surprise to see his name on the roster of one of the MLS franchises’ early next year.

Matthew Briggs

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EPPP forces Huddersfield into Academy revamp and more will follow…

EPL new boys Huddersfield Town announced the restructuring of their Academy this weekend – a move which has been met with a mixed response.

Had an article in the Daily Mail not emerged earlier this month the decision would have come as huge shock, especially when you factor in Huddersfield’s promotion to the top table and the riches that come with it.

Last season Chelsea banked in excess of £150m from their share of TV broadcast money, while rock-bottom Sunderland claimed almost £100m. With that in mind you can assume Huddersfield will claim in excess of £100m this time around just for being in the top flight and so on the face of it scaling back their Academy seems bonkers and short-sighted.

The Terriers claim their Academy, that runs from Under-8s right the way through to the Under-23s, costs £20,000 a week or £1million a year to maintain – a drop in the ocean when you factor in their income. But GoPlay Sports understands their decision is not a financial one and nothing to do with cost-cutting and more about being able to develop players into their first team. Fans, parents and local businesses have accused them of putting finances before youth development, but when the facts are laid down on the table, it seems a move that makes sense.

Only one player since the HTAFC Academy opened 18 years ago developed into a Premier League player – Jon Stead, who played for Sunderland, Blackburn and Sheffield United.

The likes of Jack Hunt and Alex Smithies have forged decent careers at Championship level, while current players Philip Billing and Tommy Smith were brought into the Academy at 17 and 20 respectively. They weren’t nurtured by the Terriers from age 8, but picked up from Denmark and Manchester City and then brought through into the first team and that indeed will be the aim of the new set-up.

Huddersfield plan to axe every team from under-8s to Under-16s and will keep only their Under-18s and Under-23s as they move from a category 2 to a category 4 Academy. That means they will now only be allowed to recruit and develop talent from the age of 16 and over with the current youth sides being phased out within the next month.

If any criticism is to be lodged at Huddersfield and Hoyle it is the timing of the decision – just over a month into the new season. And after the euphoria of promotion to the Premier League, the club’s Academy coaches and young players will be packing their bags with just a month consultancy period offered to them.

Huddersfield though are now “focusing on creating a clear pathway to the first team for players with the ability to thrive” with chairman Dean Hoyle happy to implement the change, which he has described as “the hardest” he has had to make while at the helm.

Hoyle, who made his fortune from greeting cards, pointed out that the ethos of the Academy was failing.

“Our Academy system must provide a strong and obvious pathway to the First Team for players who are good enough, whilst also representing value for the Club. Upon review, this is not something that we could claim,” he told the club’s website.

It’s a move which Championship side Brentford made in early 2016 and one which they were criticized for for being “short-sighted”. The Bees have scrapped all but their Under-23 side or B team and are now solely focused on developing players aged 17 or above.

They aim to pick up released players from Premier League Academies, while also picking up players from “undervalued markets” overseas. Their Academy was running at a cost of £2m a year and owner Matthew Benham decided it was not worth the while.

And one of the major reasons why these Academies are failing is that Premier League clubs, with category 1 status, can simply cherry-pick the best youngsters and pay a nominal compensation fee.  Under the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) the biggest clubs get to swallow up the best talent, while other rules under the plan are restrictive.

Brentford’s head of football operations Robert Rowan told The Guardian last year:  “It allowed us far more flexibility on how we do that because we are not as restricted by regulation or rules. It was the most sustainable and effective option. It’s a lot easier to assess something that has got a turnaround of three years than over 10 years. ”

It’s widely understood that elite youth talent in England is actively encouraged to attend the category 1 academies and so a team like Huddersfield with Manchester United and Manchester City almost on their door step are always vulnerable to their best youngsters being recruited.

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The best youngsters who have been scouted by the FA and already recruited by England will be actively encouraged, if not told, to join the elite Academies – leaving the likes of Brentford and Huddersfield kicking their heels.

It’s a failing model for non-elite clubs and we will likely see more English clubs follow in the footsteps of Brentford and Huddersfield as they look to develop talent that can make an impact in the first team, rather than trying to nurture an 8-year-old that will get picked off by the big guns if he shows anywhere near the talent that’s required.

Matthew Briggs

Can MLS still afford not to align itself with Europe?

Aligning the MLS calendar with Europe’s top leagues is a idea that has been proposed for some time, but now seems the right time to implement it.

There have been well documented concerns about the development of MLS for some time, but now is the time for MLS Commissioner Don Garber to act. Aligning the calendar with the European schedule, starting the season in July or August and finishing in May or June is a must if the league is to improve. Introducing an international break and aligning with the international transfer window would then fall into place and would be hugely beneficial.

There is of course an issue with the cold weather in winter in the northern cities, but the increasing number of franchises in the south makes it workable. And such is the opportunity to attract top overseas talent at the current time, that a change must be made.

There were an unprecedented number of young, talented English players that moved out of the the Premier League this summer, all of which slipped the MLS net.

Thirteen Premier League clubs broke their transfer records this summer, spending a combined £1.47bn and many of those players were brought in from overseas.

Such was that spending that more English youngsters than ever before decided to take their chances away from England. It’s becoming almost impossible for good, young English talent to make the grade in the top flight. And as plenty of Europe’s League’s have benefitted this season, so could MLS.

A move to the European schedule now makes complete sense, add an international break and English talent and other European talent would find the move across The Pond more alluring. Playing MLS matches while international action takes place is crazy. It not only penalizes teams who cannot call upon their best players, but it also turns imports off from moving to America.

Jadon Sancho, named player of the tournament as England Under-17s reached the European Championship final, moved for £10million from Manchester City to Borussia Dortmund. West Ham defender Reece Oxford and Liverpool’s Ryan Kent went on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach and Freiburg respectively.

Chris Willock, Matty Willock, Kaylen Hinds, Mason Mount and Charlie Colkett have all moved on loan to European clubs. All highly regarded youngsters in Gareth Southgate’s England set-up, but unable to get game time in the EPL.

Would they have considered a move to MLS – a league that is out of sync with Europe – and that runs from March to October? No.

Align the league with Europe and introduce a break while internationals take place and some of those youngsters may well have opted to take their chance in MLS. That would mean talented, hungry European players willing to play in America – a move that could only be a plus for the league.

There are however a few talented English youngsters already plying their trade in the league. Jack Barmby, Anton Walkes and Jack Harrison are all carving out successful careers in MLS and Stoke-born Harrison thinks MLS could become a destination of choice for more of his fellow countrymen.

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Asked if there could be more players following him across the Atlantic: “Definitely, yeah,” said Harrison. “I think the way the game is changing now, you get these clubs that are just buying top players.

“They are paying so much money for them as well and it makes it that much harder for the academy kids that have been there since six-years-old to try and make it to the first team.

“It’s that much harder so I wouldn’t be surprised if more players were to venture out and try different options.”

Harrison, who has scored nine goals in 28 games for New York City FC, is making an impact. And the 20-year-old former Man Utd youth academy player is starting to make some Premier League clubs sit up and take notice.

He left Carrington as a 13-year-old and joined Wake Forest University via an American boarding school and in January 2016 he was the first pick in the MLS SuperDraft, aged 18.

“I definitely have no regrets, especially now,” Harrison told Press Association Sport.

“A couple of years ago, I would always think about what would have happened if I had stayed at United.

“But now I have no regrets, I am happy to be here in the situation I am, playing with the players I am.

“I am learning so much and it can only get better, really.

“It can be tough sometimes for someone my age in England or anywhere in Europe to get the playing time that they want. And to be playing as much as I am, (I am) just really grateful.”

Harrison has almost been a pioneer for young English players looking to make it big in MLS, but a few key changes to the schedule could see dozens more players following his path across The Pond. It’s a decision that needs making and an opportunity that MLS cannot afford to pass up.

Matthew Briggs

Interview with USA Eagle Alycia Washington

Alycia Washington is a starting member of the USA National Rugby Team set to face off with France for the Bronze Medal at the Women’s Rugby World Cup in Belfast, N. Ireland tomorrow afternoon. When Alycia isn’t representing her country on her sport’s biggest stage, she coaches at University of New Haven and Simsbury High School. She plays club for New York Rugby Club and when she’s not coaching, playing or reffing, she represents GoPlay as a Regional Coordinator. took some time to answer

Alycia took some time to answer some questions about her rugby journey, how the sport has helped her grow over the years and why she thinks it’s an excellent sport for young women athletes:

How’d you first get into rugby and what inspired you to give it a try?

When I first got to college, it seemed like such a huge place, and I was looking for a way to make it feel a bit smaller. I also didn’t want to gain the “freshman 15” so when my friend suggested rugby to me it seemed like a natural fit. Then I went to one practice and I was hooked! The team was so welcoming, I knew immediately that I found a home with them.

When did you first get aspirations to play at the highest levels?

Honestly, during my first year or so of playing, I had no idea there were options to play after college. One of my opponent’s coaches nominated me for a USA U20 tryout and that really opened my eyes to how big the rugby community is. Once I got selected for that squad,  I was even more motivated to keep improving and I set my sights on making it to a World Cup.

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What’s it like wearing the crest of the USA Eagles? How does it make you feel to represent your country?

It is truly the greatest honor. Getting my first jersey brought me to tears. How often do dreams come true? I just hope to always make my country proud whether I’m in the jersey or not. The crest may be visible on the jersey but, I am also carrying my family, my teammates, the teams I coach and all of the sacrifices and compromises they have made on my behalf with me all the time.

How do you view the responsibility of representing the USA in an international context?

It truly is a profound responsibility that is so much bigger than myself. I always try to remember that I am never just representing myself. It took a village to get me where I am today. Making that village proud is my motivation and I view that responsibility as the strongest source of motivation.

What are some misconceptions people might have about what it’s like to be on the national team?

A lot of people think that to be at this level you have to be very serious and regimented every minute of the day. We are here because we love the game and enjoy playing. We might lead slightly different lives and we are probably more conscientious about our habits but we are still just rugby players that enjoy off days and cheat meals like everyone else.

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What opportunities and coaching along the way allowed you to get to where you are in your playing/coaching career?

Once I realized how big the rugby world is, I decided it was about time to take a trip with my college team during my senior year. It absolutely changed my life. I started looking for more and more ways to travel which led me to play for the Midwest Thunderbirds and I kept pursuing more ways I can see rugby all around the world.

You recently coached the Simsbury High School Girls team to the CT State Championships. When did you start coaching and what inspired you to get into it?

Rugby has given me so much that I felt I needed to find ways to give back so when I started working at The University of New Haven in 2014, the same year that they started their women’s rugby club, I felt compelled to share my experience with them. In my third year with New Haven, I took on a coaching position with Simsbury High School. I have learned an incredible amount from the players and other coaches. They are all so inspiring and supportive and have contributed more than they’ll ever know to my rugby career.

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Would you recommend rugby as a sport for young women? If so, what opportunities would rugby give them that they couldn’t get playing other sports?

Absolutely! Rugby is both the ultimate team and individual sport. I have gained so many skills that will help me in everyday life like communication and resilience. But most of all, the knowledge that I have a global family of ruggers is incredible. The welcoming environment I have received in every country where I have played is inspiring and humbling. I don’t think you can get the same experience in any other sport, especially as a woman.

Why do you work for GoPlay? Why is travel such an ingrained element of rugby culture?

I work for GoPlay because it provides exactly what i think the world needs right now: an outlet to understand and become engaged in other cultures. Rugby laws (for the most part) are universal and this common thread connects us all so i believe we are so inclined to travel because we want to express and show respect for this connection to our brother and sister ruggers around the world.

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Brendan Rodgers explains his youth philosophy at Celtic

Chris Sutton may be loathed as a spiky football pundit, but his recent interview for BT Sport with Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers was enlightening.

As far as youth football goes it gave a great insight into the determination that is now required for young talented players to make it to the top level.

After spending 15 years in youth development before becoming a manager, former Liverpool boss Rodgers is one of the most respected figures in the game and now in his fifth management job, he admitted: “I appreciate what I have now.”

And that is most definitely a two-way street after arriving on a 12-month rolling deal last May after being sacked by Liverpool in October 2015. It didn’t take Celtic long to realize they owed more to the 44-year-old Northern Irishman, who guided Celtic to the Scottish title in April this year with eight games to spare.

READ MORE: Celtic’s commitment into developing Academy players into first-teamers

Just five days later the Hoops had handed Rodgers a four-year deal – a contract he hopes to fulfill –  and ultimately see the club to a record “10 in a row” league titles. That’s Rodgers’ aim, along with coaching for “another 20 years”, but it is the principles he has put in place at Parkhead in his first 12 months that have been so momentous and which undoubtedly aided their unbeaten domestic treble in his first season.

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Sutton asked the Northern Irishman about his philosophy at Celtic and Rodgers revealed one of the biggest changes he made from the Ronny Delia era was a change in lifestyle.

“The obligation for youth academies is two-fold: to get players into the first team; to make sure they are good enough,” Rodgers said.

“I never give a freebie. If I have a senior player who is working his socks off for me and he is not playing, I won’t throw his place out just to give a place to a young guy who has done ok in one game They have to earn it.

READ MORE: GoPlay Sports and Celtic link-up

“The most important thing for me at Celtic is letting the talent believe they can be better. The talent is here but will they take responsibility and will they make the commitment to be a better player?

“Can they improve their life? Can they be inspired to see that they are more than a talent and that they need to work. They can go on and make more money here or go on but that is down to how you approach your life,” added Rodgers.

“Do you have a night out? Or do you forfeit that?

“One of the biggest changes I made here was about lifestyle. Really devote yourself. They can have fun, and I want them to enjoy themselves but it is about timing.

“The modern game demands that. You cannot get away with it now like you used to do years ago. Lifestyle is absolutely vital for players and each club will have their ethos but for me here to be a Champions League player consistently there is a demand and a price to pay for that.”

 

Celtic’s commitment to developing Academy players into first-teamers

Scottish champions Celtic have a genuine commitment to developing their academy players into first-teamers; we caught up with the club’s International Soccer Academy Manager to find out more…

Last May Celtic youngster Jack Aitchison became the club’s youngest ever goalscorer at 16 years and 71 days old after netting in the 7-1 romp over Motherwell in the final game of the season.

Aitchison, now 17, has gone on to make six senior appearances this season, scoring three times and he is just one of a long list of youngsters, past and present, who have graduated through the club’s St Ninian’s Academy and into the first XI.

In fact Willie McNab took great pride in telling us: “18 Academy players since 2001/02 that have now made their debut in the Champions League.”

Willie, who will be joining us in Boston on April 28, 29 to lead two coach education sessions, remembers the day when Aitchison scored.

“We were playing down at Annan with the U15s that day; Jack is just a year older than these kids and we were all listening on our phones and watching Twitter and we heard he had come on,” he said

“And then we heard he had scored. It was unbelievable, there was big cheer that went up in the changing room.

“You just need to look at Jack and Kieran Tierney, Liam Henderson, Callum McGregor and James Forrest, who have all been here since they were young kids. They are a fabulous example.”

READ MORE: Six tips for soccer coaches…

Willie, who is also part of Celtic’s U15s set-up, told us he had recently caught up with Tierney – another Hoops graduate who has already faced Barcelona at the Camp Nou.

“I actually managed to speak to Kieran last week and although he is only a young lad himself he was giving some great advice to some of the younger lads coming through.

“He was telling them how he started just kicking a ball against a wall to practice his touch and working on his left foot, right foot.

“It is inspirational for the younger guys coming through. I work with the Under-15s and it’s aspirational and inspirational to look at someone like Kieran and what it could mean in a few years time if you are willing to work hard and live the right life off the pitch as well as on it.

“It is great to see so many young players getting their opportunity and it bodes well for the future.”

Willie recently went through six of his best tips for coaches and he says he regularly keeps abreast of coaching techniques from other soccer coaches and from other sports to keep ahead of the game.

“There was a basketball coach speaking recently about players taking responsibility for themselves and working hard and we actually showed the players before we went on the pitch last night,” he said.

“We played them the clip and then waited until after the session and it was about it being a team effort and not just about the individual and how they are always developing.

“The kids I have are just a couple of years away from potentially having a professional contract and being in and around the first team and it is becoming real for them.

“But they are still kids and developing and we have to give them that environment where they can still make mistakes and that it is okay to mistakes, but still get them ready for the chance when it comes along.”

Celtic Academy ethos

The ethos at Celtic’s Academy, set out by Chris McCart, is to “strive to develop first team regulars who are capable of performing in the Champions League for Celtic” and Willie told us that working at the highest level possible is uppermost in the coaches’ thoughts.

“The ethos set by Chris McCart is trying to develop players that can play at the highest level possible, be that in the Champions League or for their country and we’re hoping for Scotland because we have predominantly Scottish players in the Academy.

“We are under no illusions as coaches that is the level we are striving for and we know not every kid will hit those heights and maybe they will find a level elsewhere.

“I think it is now 18 youth Academy players since 2001/02 that have now made their debut in the Champions League. It’s an excellent record. Three of them did it this season – Kiernan Tierney, Liam Henderson and Callum McGregor.

“Tierney made his debut in the Nou Camp against Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez. I was talking to him the other day about it and he said it was just ‘unbelievable’ and in the second game against Man City where he scored he had a real battle with Raheem Sterling and that is the level we want the boys to get to.

“We do understand though that they develop at different rates and not all of then will make that level but if you shoot for that level, both on and off the pitch then it gives them the best opportunity to have a career within the game.”

 We asked Willie at what age do the academy players start thinking about tactics.

“The technical basis is really important. We make sure a player can receive the ball, pass the ball, run with the ball, but there is also the tactical element too,” he added.

“That becomes really important especially when they start playing 11 a side. Our Under 12s now are starting to learn that side of the game about balance and not attacking with too many players and making sure you are not leaving yourself open to a counter-attack.

“The technical element is hugely important, but when the players get to 13 and upwards the tactical element is also introduced.”

Counter-attacking

With counter-attacking becoming more popular in the modern game we asked Willie whether the Academy starlets were well versed on how to break quickly and how to stop being caught out by quick-thinking opponents.

“Yes it’s more of a consideration these days. We also say ‘when you are attacking be in a good defensive position’ and so it’s knowing that when you are attacking you are at your most vulnerable.

“If you look at the stats and the technical report from the UEFA Champions League was that a quicker build up is now happening, apart from Barcelona, who are more methodical.

“Goals are being scored within three or four passes now and teams are going at you quickly and if you flood too many men forward, teams will just pick you off.

“If you look at Celtic and they way they play I think we’ve only conceded 22 league goals all season and very few of those, maybe none have been conceded from the counter-attack.

“We make sure that when we have possession for long periods, the door is shut behind you.

“So we say to our kids ‘when you are attacking be in a good defensive position and when you are defending be in a good offensive position’. ‘Be in an area where you can win the ball back and start a quick counter attack.’

“That is the information we are giving to our kids in the U14,” added Willie.

For more information contact GoPlay…

Twitter: @goplaysoccerusa

Facebook: @goplaytours

Tel: 800-888-ACIS.

 

Six coaching tips from Celtic’s International Soccer Academy Manager

GoPlay Sports caught up with Celtic’s International Soccer Academy Manager and asked him for his six top coaching tips.

We are honored to have partnered with Celtic for the next three years and we will act as the club’s designated United States travel operator for the Academy’s clubs in the US.

And to launch our new link-up Willie McNab will be heading to New Balance headquarters in Boston later this month to host two days of coach education sessions on April 28, 29.

But ahead of the widely-anticipated sessions we had a chat with Willie and asked him what the most important skills for a coach to possess were, regardless of their level.

SIX COACHING TIPS

1. Preparation

Be prepared in everything you do. If you are looking at just one session then know exactly what outcomes and your objectives are in the session and how many players you have so it’s not off the cuff.

2. Clear Vision

Have a clear vision and philosophy of what you want to do. It is so hard to put something in place when you don’t have that philosophy that’s driving what you want to do.

That’s from a personal coaching point of view and from your club too. You need to have a crystal clear vision.

3. Drive

No matter what level you coach at you always need to be watching other sessions and watching other clubs of all levels that can broaden your horizons.
There are also a lot of excellent podcasts and videos out there with guys that are currently in the game that outline current trends.
Take yourself out of your comfort zone. Have an open mind.

4. Humility

Have that respect factor and not only for your players but also from your fellow coaches. It’s something that Brendan Rodgers preaches here at Celtic.
No matter who you are speaking to, whether it is a five-year-old or one of your fellow coaches it’s vital you have that humility.
The head of the Academy Chris McCart has always instilled that and when Brendan Rodgers came in he just reinforced it and when you have got someone like Brendan Rodgers, who has been where he has, coming in and saying the same it just reaffirms the good work that is going on in the Academy.

5. Fully commit

Make sure you fully commit to what you are going to do. I love coaches who have an enthusiasm for the game.
You have to put your heart and soul into it. Players look at the coach to get inspiration from and you can be a role model and a father figure/big brother figure and they will try and model themselves on you, so you have to give off that enthusiasm.

6. Be yourself

Do not copy anyone. Get inspiration from other coaches and look at the top guys like Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Brendan Rodgers and get ideas, but ultimately be your own person.
Have your own personality and attitude. You don’t need to become a clone of anyone.
For more information contact GoPlay…

Twitter: @goplaysoccerusa

Facebook: @goplaytours

Tel: 800-888-ACIS.

#bedforawayfans initiative shows why terror will never win

Images of opposition football fans standing in unity will be the overriding memory from last night.

Pictures of the stricken Dortmund team bus, with shattered windows and scores of police officers trying to quell the panic were just a side issue; that temporary chaos should and not be the focus of Tuesday’s night’s latest assault on humanity.

When three explosive devices were detonated near the Borussia Dortmund team bus ahead of the night’s Champions League clash with Monaco, the perpetrators aim was to cause carnage, injure and maim innocent citizens. Fortunately only one person was injured – Dortmund player Marc Bartra who suffered a broken wrist – but the abiding memory will be of how the football world closed ranks to condemn another thoughtless act of violence.

Attacking soft targets appears to be a common theme throughout the world, with so-called Islamic terror groups aiming to cause as much destruction and loss of life as possible with the apparent goal to split and divide communities and to stop people travelling and experiencing other cultures.

As per the famous quote by Benjamin Disraeli: “Travel teaches toleration.”

And on Wednesday all efforts to deny travel and thus halt toleration failed. In Dortmund the latest was not successful and future demonic efforts to attack ‘life’ will continue to fail too.

One person on Twitter encapsulated the mood.

The images and videos of Monaco fans singing and showing their solidarity for their Champions League opponents Dortmund won  – it was a beautiful sight. Within the hour the German hosts had started the ‘bedforawayfans’ initiative which enabled any stranded French fans the opportunity to stay at the houses of their hosts.

It consequently went viral with hundreds of Monaco fans from all backgrounds, who suddenly needed an extra night’s accommodation, sharing pictures and video on social media displaying of their togetherness.

Monaco later offered an allowance of 80 euros for every fan stuck in Germany, but with such generosity from Dortmund fans it was unlikely the club’s offer was taken up by many.

Germany defender Benedikt Howedes, captain of Dortmund’s fierce rivals Schalke, wrote: “Football unites. What a great initiative! #bedforawayfans”

Meanwhile, Borussia Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke urged his players to show their club does not bend to “terror and hatred”.

Watzke said in a statement on the club website: “The BVB family was always especially strong when it had to cope with difficult situations. This is perhaps the most difficult situation that we have faced in the past decades. I am sure that we will show ourselves as a strong and united BVB like never before.

“We do not just play for us today. We play for everyone – no matter whether Borussia, Bayer or Schalke supporters. We want to show that terror and hatred can never dictate our actions. And of course we play for Marc Bartra, who wants to see his team win.

“We ask all BVB fans to support our team today with total energy for 90 minutes. This team had to process the incomprehensible in a short space of time. We should all help you to come to terms with it.

“I just appealed to the team in the changing room to show society that we do not bend before terror.”

Watzke summed up the feelings of the majority as football showed the world that there will only be one winner in the fight against terror.

Matthew Briggs

GoPlay celebrate Celtic link-up with coach education sessions

To celebrate GoPlay Sports’ new partnership with the Celtic Soccer Academy we are holding a series of coach education sessions at the New Balance headquarters in Boston.

We are honored to have partnered with Celtic for the next three years and we will act as the club’s designated United States travel operator for the Academy’s clubs in the US.

And to kick off the relationship International Soccer Academy Manager Willie McNab will be coming to Boston to deliver a coach education session and an on-the-field demonstration later this month.

We caught up with McNab, who has built a fine reputation as a soccer clinician, demonstrating all over the world, including at numerous NSCAA Conventions, to ask him about what he is hoping for from the two-day course.

 

When and where are the sessions?

I’ll be across in Boston from April 26 to April 30 and the actual dates of the coaching sessions will be April 28 and April 29 at the New Balance headquarters in the city.
The Friday will be a theory based session and on the Saturday will we have the field demonstrations.

What can we expect from the sessions?

I work at the NSCAA Coaching Convention every year and the sessions will be similar to that. At the Conventions though you have such a wide-ranging audience – you have people working at grass-roots level all the way through to the professional level and also it’s about trying to find the right level to pitch at.

The Boston sessions will be to a smaller audience – maybe 60 coaches – rather than up to 2,000 that you can have watching at the Convention.

There will be a more intimate feel to it and I’ll be able to spend more time with the group as a whole and maybe if individuals want to chat I’ll be able to do that in a more relaxed environment.

The Conventions are absolutely brilliant but there are a lot of people there from all over the world offering insights and opinion, whereas these sessions will be focused on Celtic so we can give them some real insight into what we are doing.

Sometimes big venues can be intimidating and if someone has a really good question, they tend not to pose it, they tend to come and ask you one-on-one, so a smaller setting should allow people to ask those questions.

It also gives us the chance to tell people about the 24 partners in North America and we also have three partners in Panama and Venezuela and Costa Rica so it’s about letting coaches know about how partnering with Celtic can benefit them.

How will the partnership between Celtic and GoPlay work?

So basically through this new partnership GoPlay will be identifying clubs in the local area to invite them along so we can tell them a bit about what we are doing at the Celtic Academy but also what we are doing in North America with the club partnership programme that we have at the club.

And we’ll also be letting them know about the opportunity they have to travel with GoPlay and the strong relationship we have with them.

The relationship with GoPlay will mean that any clubs who show an interest in coming to Celtic will be offered GoPlay’s expertise in arranging their travel arrangements.
But in addition to that GoPlay have also got some fantastic relationships with some local clubs in Boston but also further afield across America – it’s a win-win situation for both Celtic and GoPlay.

For more information contact GoPlay…

Twitter: @goplaysoccerusa

Facebook: @goplaytours

Tel: 800-888-ACIS.

GoPlay to Sponsor 2017 International Goalkeeper Coaches Conference

GoPlay is extremely excited to announce our sponsorship of The International Goalkeeper Coaches Conference at The Sawgrass Grand Hotel, happening June 2-4th 2017.

The conference is organized by founder and director Phil Wheddon, a former Goalkeeper Coach of the U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Teams. After attending a Goalkeeping conference in Holland, Phil recognized the need for a similar conference in the United States. When returning from Holland, he began putting together a non-licensing, non-affiliated event specifically for goalkeeper coaches.

The conference will offer some of the best goalkeeper training the world has to offer featuring some of the worlds’ best goalkeeper coaches including:

– Michael Rechner – First Team Goalkeeper Coach, Bundesliga – TSG 1899 Hoffenheim. Since 2008 Michael has also been the Goalkeeper Coach TSG 1899 Hoffenheim Academy / Coordinator Goalkeeping. In 1999-2004 Michael played professionally in Germany: Hamburger SV, Mannheim, Leipzig.

– Hugo Oliveira – Premier League Hull City Goalkeeper Coach. Former S. L. Benfica and Portuguese National team goalkeeper coach. Worked with talents such as Jan Oblak, Julio Cesar, Ederson Moraes and more.

– Eric Steele – Ex-Derby County, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Manchester United GK Coach. Former FA GK Coach of the year – has coached football greats; Peter Schmeichel, Thomas Sorensen, Joe Hart, Edwin van der Sar and David de Gea.

– Andrew Sparkes – Head of Academy Goalkeeping Swansea City. Previously @newyorkredbulls Head of Academy Goalkeeping | u18 GK Coach @redbullsalzburg

– Lee Kendall – England WNT Goalkeeper Coach Since 2014. Lee works primarily with the senior squad of Goalkeepers, but he also oversees the program from the U15 to Senior International team. As part of the England WNT bronze medal winners in the 2015 World Cup in Canada, Lee helped aid Karen Bardsley performances in the FIFA tournament.

– John Cone, PhD. – Soccer-specific Fitness Specialist and Founder of Fit for 90. John has a PhD in kinesiology and is a former MLS assistant coach and director of sports science.

“The International Goalkeeper Coaches Conference is the only conference in the country dedicated to the development of goalkeeper coaches and the goalkeeping position. The IGCC is committed to bringing together the top goalkeeping coaches from around the world to share information and impact the development of goalkeepers worldwide. With that in mind we are thrilled to partner with GoPlay Tours, the industry leader in sports tours both domestically and internationally. As a partner, GoPlay will offer amazing opportunities for attendees to experience the game at the highest levels in unique settings. GoPlay Tours will provide access to coaches and training environments that will give our coaches and their players an insight into the workings and operations of some of the top clubs in the world. GoPlay Tours is, without a doubt, the #1 recommended sports tours company in the country and we are excited to enter into this partnership with them.”

Phil Wheddon, Director and Founder of the International Goalkeeper Coaches Conference

“The International Goalkeeper Coaches Conference is a world-class collection of goalkeepers and coaches that gives attendees the chance to learn, network and grow. At GoPlay, our mission is to help players and coaches see the world and reach their full potential as players in the process. We’re absolutely thrilled to support such a world-class organization and partner with such a qualified group of coaches and mentors.”

Brian Ainscough, GoPlay Tours Technical Director

To receive a $200 discount on registration for the conference, use the discount code GOPLAY17 before May 1st.

All of the details around the conference program, accommodations and presenters are available at www.internationalgoalkeepercoaches.com