The International London Cup – The Biggest Youth Tournament of 2018

 

The International London Cup and Why It’s Being Referred to as the Biggest Youth Tournament of 2018.

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What do the following teams have in common?

    PSG, AC Milan, Chelsea, Manchester City, Ajax, Porto, Liverpool, Everton, West Ham, Lyon, PSV Eindhoven, Fulham, Swansea, Genk and Crystal Palace.

I expect you’re struggling to guess? The answer is that they are all part of the International London Cup. This is the first of its kind in England and will take place over two weekends at Bromley Stadium, in June, later this year. The incredible line up is drawing the attention of coaches and football clubs nationwide for a number of reasons. The first is that all competing players must be born in 2007/2008 (school year 5) and the second is that ANY team can pay to enter, whatever their level (providing they are U10). Grassroots players will have the chance of playing against potential future footballers currently playing in some of the best academies in the world.

So how has this tournament been organised, how are We Make Footballers involved and who are the people behind it all? We interview Orlando Gittens the Founder and Owner of the International London Cup and We Make Footballers CEO Sean Conlon, to find out exactly how this event has gone from being an idea discussed on a trip to a football match, to becoming one of the biggest and most exciting youth tournaments in the world.  

Orlando is epitome of cool, always dressed with panache and class as well as forever smiling, except when Manchester United lose! Orlando has never personally organised a football tournament before but is no stranger to event planning.

His company has managed and run some of the biggest Soul and RnB concerts in the UK over the past 3 decades selling out the O2 and working with artists such as: The Jones girls, The Emotions, Evelyn Champagne King, Cheryl Lynn, Patrice Rushen, The Beat, The Specials, Eddie Grant, John Holt, Jodeci, Adina Howard, Loose Ends, Kenny Thomas, Jocelyn Brown, Omar, Ken Boothe, East 17, The Real Thing, Jaki Graham, Steve Arrington, Soul ll Soul, Glenn Jones, Jean Carne, Janet Kay, Damian Marley, Maxi Priest, General Levy, R Kelly and Blackstreet!

What has inspired Orlando to start organising football tournaments and move away from music? Orlando passionately tells us:

“My two loves outside of my family, are music & football. I have lived the dream of working in music for the last 30 years – now my other love football gets a chance. I will continue to do some music events but much less than normal. The inspirations to create this tournament were a few things:

1. My experiences in Europe attending tournaments with my son & marvelling at the technical abilities of the children playing.
2. I felt there was a need for a tournament that allowed grassroot teams the opportunity to play against pro academies home & abroad. Ultimately an experience that combined the charm of the FA Cup with the prestige of the Champions league.”

Montana with Arsenal
Montana (top row, far right) with Arsenal teammates. Liverpool FC v Arsenal FC U7/U8 games, 14/02/15.
Photo: Nick Taylor/ Liverpool FC.

Orlando refers to his son playing in European tournaments; this is Montana Gittens, West Ham U10.  For those readers who are part of our community and keep tabs on our social media, you will know Montana is part of our Alumni of past players who now play at a professional academy. Montana started his journey into academy football at the tender age of 4 years old. He attended We Make Footballers in Isleworth, the original centre where it all began for WMF and was spotted by Sean Conlon. Sean recollects seeing him and tells us

Mons was such a good player, even at the age of 4, you could see what he was trying to do. He loved dribbling and had loads of skills. At the age of 5 you wouldn’t have expected him to become the player he is now, as he now plays as a box to box centre midfield type of player. His development journey was fascinating. Arsenal took him at the age of 6 I think, and they really developed the passing side of his game, almost too much, as we didn’t want him to lose the ability to dribble as it was a big part of his game. Even though Orlando lived in Brixton he would travel to Isleworth for our weekly sessions and holiday camps as well as play for our partner club Old Isleworthians. I managed his side for the first 12 months or so, with Jamie Redknapp, as his boy also played in the team. We had a great side and I forged a fantastic relationship with all the parents in the team. I ended up taking over a new team the year below Montana’s team and another parent took over his side. Every boy went on to sign for professional academies from that team, they were one of the best we ever produced. I’ve stayed in contact with all those parents, they were such a lovely group of people.”

Orlando recollects:

Sean and I met when I was looking for the best coaching set up in London for my then 4 year old….even though it was miles away from where I lived it was by far the best decision we could have made.”

Sean says that even back then Orlando was talking about the International London Cup.

“I remember driving Orlando to a game in Surrey somewhere and he was asking me about my thoughts on organising tournaments. At the time, I was so busy with other projects, I didn’t think I could commit to help him but I said it was a good idea. This would have been around 2014, so it was such a shock when he rung me 3 years later with the idea for The London International Cup and told me it was happening.”  He said “I’ve booked the teams, I’ve got Ajax, Porto, PSG, Lyon, PSV, AC Milan…The list went on! When he then explained he wanted me to be involved I jumped at the chance – how could I refuse putting the We Make Footballers name alongside, what I knew would become, one of the biggest youth tournaments in the world?!”

Montana Signing At West Ham
Montana Signing with West Ham

Despite Sean taking Montana to Chelsea and getting offers from a number of London clubs, Orlando committed to sign Montana with West Ham when he turned 8. After being at the club for the past 3 years Montana has established himself as a key member of the squad and it was through West Ham that Orlando made contact with Europe’s elite. Dave Johnson, Head of International Tournaments at West Ham, has helped guide Orlando and given him the introductions he needed once he saw how serious he was about the event.

You can tell Sean and Orlando are extremely excited about the Cup as they jump at the chance to explain details of the competition.

“What excites me the most about this tournament, is the possibility that we might be seeing the next Messi or Ronaldo! To coin the new phrase, Montana is “gassed” about the tournament, and obviously believes that West Ham are strong favorites.”

Orlando laughs at his son’s new colloquial use of the word ‘gassed’! However, as Sean emphasizes, Orlando must be Superman in Montana’s eyes.

He has literally organised the equivalent of the Champions League of U10s football! The best of the best are there. The thing about the teams selected is that, regardless of how their first teams are currently doing in their respective leagues, their academies are world famous. Genk from Belgium have produced notable players such as Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois and Benteke, Lyon have produced players such as Karim Benzema, Jean Djorkaeff and Anthony Martial and not sure we have enough time to list the players Ajax have produced over the years! The teams have been very carefully selected and it’s incredible how it has all come together.”

Tournament Format:

We’ve referred to grassroots teams entering the International London Cup but we haven’t yet gone into detail to explain how they will play against the players signed to professional clubs. Here is the format taken from the ILC website:

On the 2nd & 3rd June 2018 teams will compete in mini leagues of 6 teams for the right to play in the Champions League style tournament on the 9th & 10th June 2018 against Europe’s best professional academy teams.

Each team will play 5 matches, the team with the most points or in the case of a tie the best goal difference will progress.  16 teams will progress to the main competition on 9th and 10th June.

The event will be held on 4G pitches at:

Bromley Football Club,
Hayes Lane,
Bromley,
Kent BR2 9EF

The format is 7 a-side, 12 minutes per match with a cost of £250 to enter.

“We have found that the qualification tournament has become a huge event in itself. The top U10 teams in the country want to the chance to compete against the very best. Football is such a small world once you are in it, word has quickly travelled so the standard of teams competing in the qualifying rounds are very high; I know because I’ve scouted many of them! We are allowing academy players to compete in the qualifying rounds if they are born in 2008. If they are not signed to an academy then they can be born between August 31st 2007 – December 31st 2008. Luton have entered their U10s in the Qualifying Round on the 2nd/3rd June and we have also spoken with Norwich, Southampton, Millwall and AFC Wimbledon about entering teams during the first weekend of football.”

Franchise Football

 

So what is We Make Footballers involvement in this tournament and what was Orlando’s reason to call Sean to join his team? Orlando tells us:

“I picked We Make Footballers to recruit teams for the qualification weekend because it was important for me to have complete trust, in what is such a vital component of the tournament, with a totally professional, trustworthy organisation who understand the passion and the needs of the teams they are recruiting coupled with the drive and the business acumen to get the job done to the standards required.”

The set-up of the tournament has had its obstacles. Orlando tells us that the initial process of conceiving the financial and organisational viability of the tournament was tough but the next challenge he faced was choosing the right team to implement the various crucial stages.

“From team recruitment both European to home, to the right travel company, the right hoteliers and finally attracting the appropriate sponsors; it wasn’t easy.”

Even with roughly 5 months to go, the tournament has almost sold out. This has been Sean Conlon’s role, he’s used his network in the game to get the word out there and because of his reputation working for Chelsea and running We Make Footballers, people know he doesn’t put his name to anything which won’t be a success. It’s a fantastic story for We Make Footballers, a player we’ve helped develop has not only gone on to sign for a top Category 1 Academy, but sparked a series of relationships which led to Orlando forming one of the biggest youth tournaments in the world. So many people will benefit from this event, whether it’s spectators seeing how top coaches from Europe develop the world’s top talent, or the young players proving themselves against the very best. We are so excited to be a part of this and cannot wait for June to find out who will be named the International London Cup Winners!

You can still enter your team into the cup here to grab the last remaining spaces:

www.InternationalLondonCup.com

@InternationalLondonCup

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We Make Footballers Reaction to ‘No Hunger In Paradise’

Issues raised in No Hunger in Paradise are not just apparent in the UK, but worldwide problems seen in more industries than football.

Football Academies Franchising

It’s a few days since the No Hunger in Paradise aired on BT Sport and was made available to watch online for free. Since then, there seems to have been countless discussions on social media platforms and within coach community WhatsApp groups about the rights and wrongs of youth football in England. Everyone has an opinion on children with social media accounts, young players earning too much money early in their career and whether or not they start academy football prematurely.

I found it to be an enjoyable watch and I’ve recommended it to most people I know in football, even just so they can have an informed opinion when it no doubt comes up in conversation. Although I enjoyed it, I did feel I had to concentrate a fair amount to filter some of the one-sided reporting I was being presented with throughout.

The scene with Ryan Innis, the ex Crystal Palace defender who went to prison for assault, seemed to indicate that the academy system was to blame for his crime. There were images of prison flashing over the screen in dramatic fashion as he spoke and I began to think of the parents I know with children at academies, now fearing their children may end up in trouble with the law. Where was the data which told us the percentages of footballers who go to prison following being in the academy system? I felt there was a narrative being created early on in the documentary and viewers weren’t being allowed to come up with their own opinions on the subject.

They often referred to 3 year olds being scouted at academies as if this is now common. I’m contracted as a Scout Coordinator with Chelsea and I know I wouldn’t be allowed to send a 3 years old into any of our sessions even if I wanted to; the senior management would probably make fun of me if I tried. None of the scouts I know who work for the other major London clubs would dream of sending a player of that age to train; the idea is quite ridiculous. However it kept being mentioned through the documentary as well as in the promotional interview on BT Sport with Frank Lampard and Chris Sutton.

Another frustration I had was when Gareth Southgate was asked: “is there an optimal age you can judge a player and say yes he’s got what it takes?”

I found his answer conflicting: “No, I think that’s very individual. What I would say is that we take them too young. I don’t see how anyone can take a young 7 or 8 year old kid into an academy and have a realistic conversation with them or their family which talks about being a professional at the end. Because, for me, [it’s] impossible. They might be a talent, but that is some journey you’ve got to go on. By all means bring them in, let them enjoy football, improve them and give them the opportunity to play with good players but I worry that kids are signed up too early and the dream is there at an age it’s impossible for anybody to know what’s going to happen.”

Gareth Southgate praising English Youth Development in 2017

Although Southgate criticises young players joining academies in the documentary, in November 2017 he was complimentary of these same players: “We’ve given these guys the opportunity and we believe there are others coming through our youth systems,’‘ he said. “We’re showing people what youth development in our country can produce”. He highlights Winks, Gomez, Loftus-Cheek stating “they are comfortable with the ball, they are technically good footballers”. Yet both Loftus Cheek and Winks started with their clubs [Tottenham and Chelsea] at 6 years old, at development centres. Phil Foden has been at Man City since 6 years old, Marcus Rashford at Man U since the age of 7, Dominic Solanke was aged 6, as was Tammy Abraham and Jordan Sancho joined Watford aged 7. John Stones joined Barnsley at 8 years old.  So many of the current England players who are part of the new England DNA have been with their clubs since U8s.  I know from working at Chelsea that the majority of our youth team is now made up of players who were with us from the age of 7 and many are the same players who went on to win World Cups at Youth Level with England last year.  We are the first country to win three major competitions at youth level in one year with the approach we have had over the past 10 years, recruiting players at younger ages. We are finally starting to develop players who can compete at the highest level.

In Matthew Syed’s famous book Bounce, in which he studies the science of success, he sights there is no such thing as talent, just individuals who have applied 10,000 hours of purposeful practice! My question back to Michael Calvin is, if he wants to stop children going to academies at the age of 6 and 7, where do they get their 10,000 hours from? Unfortunately, although grassroots football in England has greatly improved, it’s still in a long way from where it needs to be, with a large number unqualified coaches responsible for managing teams and very poor facilities across the board. Is he proposing all our most promising young players don’t compete against the best players and work with the best coaches 4 times a week? I don’t suspect France, Belgium, Germany, Brazil and Spain will stop just because we would. This is the issue I had with the documentary. Michael Calvin also speaks about 7 year olds who are driven around 5 nights a week, being taken from club to club to get their practice and feels this is the wrong approach because they need a childhood. His solution was proposing children do a few sports up until the age of 10 or 11, when they have matured, and they can then join academies at that stage if they so wish. This would be awesome, if every other country did the same.

We are constantly complaining that English players can’t get into Premier League teams and our national team haven’t been technically good enough over the past few decades. We are now starting to develop players who can compete with the best in the world, as we proved with the three youth tournament cup wins in 2017. I felt the documentary could have gone deeper in it’s investigation and asked some broader questions. It’s horrible children are “Released” from academies at 6 years old and that there are parents pressuring their children to succeed at a young age, who view their children as vehicles to achieve their own dreams; I’m not arguing this at all. It raised excellent points and it’s great we are talking about youth football in England, as it clearly has to improve, but I see the same problems in children’s Theatre, Modelling, Music and Dance. If Fifa set a rule that no academies could sign players below the age of U10 anywhere in the world, to protect the welfare of the children and everyone agreed to respect this rule, it would be a level playing field; however this doesn’t seem conceivable. A rule like this would wouldn’t stop the coaching happening, it would just occur  under a different umbrella. Academies would be forced to outsource their coaching to outside companies to get the same results they are getting now and a lot the problems presented in Calvin’s documentary would resurface.

Football academies are a target as football is the most popular sport, but these issues are wider problems. We have to show more compassion and care everywhere. I do hope the discussions raised in the film create positive change and help improve child welfare across all industries which involve children, not just football.

If you haven’t yet seen the documentary you can watch it here:

https://sport.bt.com/bt-sport-films-no-hunger-in-paradise-91364241852638