The past week has seen players born in 2001 and 2002 take part in European tournament action travelling to Rotterdam in Holland to take part in the Dutch Soccer Youth Cup. The event itself was one of success as the 2001 squad came away as winners of their age group having won all 7 games, whilst the 2002 squad lost in the final on penalties to Utrecht without losing a game across the weekend in normal time.

Whilst the player’s football development was high on the agenda, Academy Manager Jonathan Henderson explains that there was a lot more to the tour than simply that.

He said “For our players it’s a whole different experience and for some of the players who have been with us from a young age this would be their first experience of a genuine competition environment for them”

“It is important that players are given opportunities to be exposed to that environment to support their development and it was really interesting for myself and the staff to see how the players adapted to the demands of tournament football. The emotion and pressure that it brings is something that just cannot be replicated in the current Academy games program”

“It was also great to expose ourselves to playing teams of different countries and cultures as this gives more variety to the player’s footballing experiences as opposed to the current regional Academy program where you come across the same type of football most weeks. The whole learning experience for our players across the week was brilliant.”

“But there’s so much more to it than just football. For some of the players it’s their first experience of being away from home, away from their families and having to have some responsibility for themselves in an unfamiliar setting so it’s great to see how they also cope with that”

“It was also good for the players socially. Because of the nature of European competitions, age groups are determined by year of birth and not school year as it is in the UK. This meant that the squads for Holland were selected across our u13s, u14s and u15s age groups so the players had to spend time with players other than just within their usual peer group, which gave them some great opportunities to interact and learn from others they may not regularly interact with”

“For us as an Academy it’s the first experience we’ve had of this and it’s something we realise we need to do more of going forward”

When asked about the Dutch Soccer Youth Cup itself, Henderson added “The tournament was a nice balance between some professional clubs in the region such as Utrecht and Sparta Rotterdam, and some of the top amateur clubs from the region”

“The format was that on day 1 there were 3 games in a group stage for each age group with the top 2 teams from the 4 groups progressing to the Elite round of 8 the following day. Day 2 saw the 8 qualifying teams placed into another 2 groups of 4 teams. Once the final group results had been concluded, there was a play-off match against the equivalently placed team from the other group”

“The 2001 team performed exceptionally well in what could only be described as an accomplished professional performance throughout. They controlled their games from start to finish and played some excellent football which saw them top both the Qualifying and Elite groups before going on to with the final play-off match to finish as champions with 7 wins from 7. The most notable performance was against Sparta Rotterdam in the final Elite group game. They have a well renowned Academy program that has seen a number of notable Dutch internationals graduate from their set up – most recently Memphis Depay now at Manchester United – so to see our players win 2-0 against a quality opposition is a great advert for our program”

“The 2002 qualified for the Elite group winning all 3 qualifying games without conceding a goal and played some excellent football in doing so. The second day brought some mixed results and emotions for the players. Their first 2 group games saw them with 2 draws on the board when they would have expected more which left them needing other results to go their way in the last game to finish as group winners. It was great to see how the players managed their disappointment to this to put in a good performance in their final group game to record a 3-0 win which was enough in the end to secure the top spot on goal difference. The final saw them drawn to face Utrecht and in all honesty were unfortunate to finish as runners up. Despite dominating the final neither side could break the deadlock which took the teams through to a penalty shoot-out which Utrecht eventually won through in sudden death”

“Overall the experience for all the players is one that undoubtedly they will have learned a great deal from and one that they will cherish long afterward”



The squads arriving at the host venue


The 2002 group with the Dutch Soccer Youth Cup runners-up trophy


 The 2001 group with the Dutch Soccer Youth Cup winners’ trophy


The players and staff with the Dutch Soccer Youth Cup trophies at the Feyenoord Stadium


The players enjoying their visit to Feyenoord Stadium