[SOCCER DESTINATIONS] What's it like to spend extended time at a major English Premier League club's youth academy?
Dallas area youth star Alex Frankenfeld recently spent six weeks training at the Chelsea youth academy in London. The rising 8th grader at St. Mark's School traveled to London with his father, Bob, after impressing at a Chelsea training camp last summer.
Alex has since traveled to Brazil to train at a soccer academy and plans on joining the Dallas Texans U-15/16 academy team in 2008-09.
DAILY ROUTINE. "In the morning, I would get up at 8 a.m. and take a warm bath so that I could stretch out my muscles. I practiced with two age groups: U14 and U15/16.
The U14s trained on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6-7:30 p.m. and Saturday mornings from 10-11:30 a.m. and a match on each Sunday. On Mondays and Fridays, I would complete the bulk of my homework via email and internet and meet with my math and Spanish tutors one hour to an hour and a half each day.
Our hotel was just a 15-minute drive to the Chelsea training facility. My dad and I would leave for training at 5:15 p.m. After training, we would have dinner at a local restaurant and went to bed around 10 p.m.
Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I would train with the U15/16s 11:00 a.m -12:30 p.m. and again 4:30-6 p.m. On those days, I would stay the entire day at the training grounds, having lunch in the Academy building with the other 15/16 boys. I would attend the U15/16 Saturday training on Saturdays before the U15/16 match on Sunday. The Academy Director and coaching staff would decide which age group I would play with in the matches on Sundays. I had the opportunity to play against U14 Derby County and U14 Portsmouth. I played against U15/16 Watford."
PRACTICES. "The practices would vary. Some days may be strength and core building and jumping, and others may be tactical work. Most practices would include small-sided games and keep-away with some sort of skill work involved with the practice. These practices would be 90 minutes of very intense work and fast pace. The fast tempo and hard work would be in place of running sprints and miles. I never ran one sprint or mile at Chelsea. The emphasis was to always attack and move forward down the field and 'play attractive and attacking football.'"
DIFFERENCES. "The pace that we played at and the skill work that we did was incredible. The pace of the skills was quick, precise and fast. One day, a coach from [the French soccer federation headquarters] Clairefontaine came and taught us new skills and style about soccer -- ie., juggling with no backspin, juggling with foot pointed out, new cuts and turns. At Solar, I was told not to use the outside of my foot to pass and control, and in England, I was encouraged to do just the opposite. I was taught to pass with my chest and head."
TEAMMATES. "My U14 teammates were all England. Some of the boys would drive 2 hours just to get to practice, and others would take the train about an hour or less. My U15/16 teammates were from England, Ireland, Slovakia, Italy, Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Portugal. Most of these boys lived with a parent or stayed with a family in the neighborhood."
BEST THING ABOUT BEING IN ENGLAND. "Getting the opportunity to train with one of the finest clubs in the world. Soccer was 24/7, an everyday aspect. You would hear about soccer and see it everywhere. There was always at least 10 pages about soccer each morning in most newspapers."
TOUGHEST THING ABOUT BEING IN ENGLAND. "Being away from my mom, sister, pets, and friends. The food was OK, but I missed American food and the 6-hour time change was difficult. I was invited to travel to Costa Rica with the Region III '94 team, but chose to stay in England and train and play matches with Chelsea."
UP-CLOSE-AND-MEMORABLE MOMENT. "Sitting in the lunchroom with all the first team players, staff, with Roman Abramovich standing by me. John Terry and [Frank] Lampard were playing pool three feet behind me and Alex was eating a banana behind my dad. My other memorable experience was when I was given the opportunity to be a ball-boy at the Champions League game between Chelsea and Olympiakos. I got to return balls to the Chelsea players and carry the Champions League crest on to the field."
FAVORITE CHELSEA PLAYER. "John Terry is my favorite player. He provides leadership, courage, wins every ball and is very coachable. Even after the Champions League final, he is still my favorite player."
FUTURE. "I would definitely go back! It was a lifetime experience. The academy, coaching staff, players and management were world class. The overall experience was incredible and I enjoyed every second of it. They treated my family and I with respect, class and patience. I am training on all aspects of my game so hopefully I will get the chance to return next spring."
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