We wound down our activities, dotting the “I’s” and crossing the “T’s” before our departure from the Complex at 3pm to the airport in Barcelona over an hour away. Before that, our Monday afternoon expedition carried us on a 22-minute drive eastward to the nearby town of Tarragona.
Managers, Sergio and Amal, carried our General Manager, Clyde Jureidini, to the Embassy of Spain to get updated about the Visa extensions for 2 of our players, and were successful in learning they are processing steadily. Both players and parents are happy. They and the 6 HVFC players (Oquassa Chong, Garth Stewart, Jabari Howell, Tyreek Magee and Casseam Priestley, Tafari Chambers) await the scheduled meeting in the next day or 2 including decisions taken in Portugal between new Premier League partners SC Braga and Lank FC.
Sightseeing in Barcelona
The more commercial-oriented town is occupied by a 135,000 population. It boasts many car dealerships, the Parc Central Mall with local and international brands, and the Marcet (Market) Central. Interestingly-sculptured public street Monument, like most European cities sculptures around a working waterfall, was observed as a decorated road- train passes us by with smiling passengers. All good fun, as we passed the famous Port-Avertura Amusement Park, sponsored by Ferrari, on the outskirts between both towns.
New sights but old memories of going home are calling, we boarded the flights awaiting good news on the horizon. Our flight departed at 6:50pm to Frankfurt then on to Montego Bay airport Wednesday, March 20th at 5pm. The itinerary then included getting on the 7pm Knutsford Express to return to the New Kingston Depot around 11:15pm to complete the long journey home for the 3 Jamaican trialists (Shadane Lopez, Denzel Smith, Trevaune McKain).
Weekends are usually devoid of team training unless there is a game scheduled, so rest, recreation and alternative options were explored. As the formal showcase is over, most persons departed for home in large numbers. Most visitors of this showcase were from Canada, while others were from Sweden, Spain, Japan, USA, Portugal, and from Jamaica.
We took the time to walk down to the beach to show Jamaican/Canadian photographer Carl and Jamaican/American Percival the sights, sea and sand. We later watched La Liga and EPL TV games take shape by this unapologetic football group at the Sports Bar in the Complex when some of the Coaches invited us out on the nearby tourist-oriented town of Cambrils, about 15 minutes away. Roadside Cafes, enclosed tents, and a host of shopping stores catered to visitors by land and the beautiful seaside heavily dotted by yachts and boats.
Vietnamese/Canadian Manager, Linh and our General manager Clyde Jureidini asked Spanish Cafe operators to turn on the Manchester United game against Wolves in the F A Cup. After the first attempt it was clear that they respected the Spanish La Liga only; after the third try we got the message clearly, “we have no time for English second rate league football, take it or leave it”.
Sunday was quieter, with some of the players visiting our General Manager in the room to sit and chat, exchanging their experiences over the last few months versus those who just came here in the last week.
Lank FC discussions were circulating, with the new agreement with SC Braga top of the list. More persons departed as the group continued to dwindle and players await final decisions about selection and their future steps in the next week or so.
D-DAY in Salou as the final game was played, the selections are to be announced at the official Lank FC closing ceremony at 8:30pm in the 2 Conference Centre Rooms. Breakfast at 7:15am opened the day as 8:15am interviews were completed with another 12 to the 7 recorded yesterday in the branded Lank FC boardroom in the conference centre.
All 22 Lank FC players were invited plus some of the trialists, as others were asked to leave for 10am training sessions with Portuguese-based Coaches, Tanou and Nene. Swedish Coach, Decrei, departed for his club game on Sunday. Coach David reflected quickly on yesterday’s game executions, outlining the results of his scouting mission to inform how Lank FC will attack the game of 2 parts that afternoon.
His tactical plan was illustrated on the large video screen with the aid of a PowerPoint document displaying the 2 sets of starting teams in each half (comprised of Lank FC U19 players first and then Lank Trialists born 2001 and after). They go up against the Danish unit, Oure Football Academy U17 squad.
MVP Player in the RCB Espanyol game, Jamaican goalkeeper Tafari Chambers, and double goalscorer from the previous game, Oquassa Chong, are left out. Jamaicans Casseam Priestley at leftback, Jabari Howell in defensive midfield, Tyreek Magee in attacking midfield and Goalkeeper Denzel Smith started for the younger U17 Team in the second half. Oquassa, Garth and Tafari sat out in the seniors as Shadane Lopez and Trevaune McKain were bypassed in the second.
Game 1: Lank FC U19 vs Oure Football Academy U17
The Danes started positively with coordination, zeal and good technique at a high pace but the scouting and the tactic are disruptive. The quality players executed with precision to snatch the lead after 12 minutes, as Priestley’s left-footed corner is nodded home by Isiah, who leaped highest. Designed tactics were at a all time high in minute 26 as Magee set up Howell to curve one around the Goalkeeper from 21 yards out, 2-0. The next 5-minute blitz was ecstasy to watch as Lank FC blossomed with high-pressing teamwork to win and then counter-attack brilliantly to score, with Tyreek Magee in high midfield then with Alex from deep midfield. In 5 minutes it was done, game, set and match, 4-0 at halftime. Lank FC U19 rested as the U17 team came in.
Game 2: Lank FC U17 vs Oure Football Academy U17
Oure Football Academy, similarly changed their entire team as the second half started. Lank Trialists scored early to lead 1-0, Oure equalised 2 minutes later then twice more. Goalkeeper Denzel Smith was powerless to stop the rampage as his 3-man defensive team was leaking badly; he made a few saves but they kept coming. New Coach, Tanou, called for defensive reinforcement in Captain Raymond, but as he entered the field the third goal was conceded.
Jabari Howell was summoned, and immediately changed the flow of the game by winning tackles, organising the team, initiating possession, passing and penetration. This resulted in Raheim scoring to make it 2-3 at the end of the game.
Formalities were observed of shaking hands, pats on the backs, congratulations, commiserations, and photos pus an end to the onfield activities. The first and only Grand Ceremony will take place tonight at 8:30pm.
Our early morning return from FC Barcelona’s victory only served notice that the boys had to learn how to balance lessons with high-level performances. An earlier breakfast at 7:15am gave way to a technical meeting in order to plan both game day squads, with one at 11am and another at 7:30pm at the Complex in Salou.
Game 1: Lank FC vs Poabla De Mafumet
Poabla De Mafumet is a Spanish Division 4 (really 5) Senior Men’s team who were set totake on Lank’s trial team of U19 players, with 3 exceptions aged 21-24. With that said, it was really men against boys, as the more physical prowess of the visitors was abundantly clear from the get-go, much to most viewers’ surprise. Maturity took over and they pushed, overpowered and drilled the youngsters around the pitch to lead 1-0 at halftime.
Coaches made 3 substitutions at halftime to create a better balance, cohesion and quality across the pitch as the Lank trialists gave their full effort to compete. They equalized as central defender, Dante, fought hardest for a loose ball in the penalty area to make a teammate scramble home with a 1-1 temporary satisfaction.
Power easily reasserted itself to restore advantage soon thereafter, leading 2-1 as centre forward, Shadane Lopez, and leftback, Trevaune McKain, both made impacts. Lopez went forward with skill, but not enough to score a goal it ended as is 2-1 as 4 scouts watched.
Lunch, Conference Room discussions with all the family, players, coaches, managers and friends were called to have a frank talk about the selection process over the next 2 days. Individually recorded interviews of players were done by the videographer and a presenter.
Game 2: Lank FC vs Sabre’s Creus Juvenil A
Lank U19 trialists took on a Spanish Academy U19 squad called Sabre’s Creus Juvenil A as a few new scouts arrived for the game. Much later in the cold of night (7:30-9:30) with a high chilly wind factor, it remained 0-0 at the half. This encouraged most supporters to visit the Snack Shop and Cafe for warm beverages.
As both teams turned around, so did the goalscoring as starting Jamaican Goalkeeper Denzel Smith made good point-blank saves. He had a lesser chance as the diagonal pass exposed the defensive line as he advanced to be beaten 0-1. He is replaced in 3 keeper rotations after almost 65 minutes.
Trinidad and Tobago’s star midfielder, Che-Bennie, came on at halftime to create opportunities. Oquassa Chong was now deployed in a lone striker’s stance, as both of them combined to steal the game with 2 colourful combinations. The midfield maestro threaded a pass between the 2 central defenders, as Chong converted with confidence after outsprinting the opponents. With 90 minutes on the clock, Che-Bennie was fouled midway the half as he got between 2 players. His audacious chip to the space behind the wall was met by Oquassa, who controlled and smashed a left-footer from 12 yards wide that the visiting custodian could not hold as it slips from his grasp over the line. Victory was celebrated by all!
Some days the football gods smile down on us; on Wednesday, March 13, 2019 could have been once such day. At 8:30 morning training was called a hour earlier for 2 reasons:
The 16 newer players on trial plus 3 players who did not participate in yesterday’s game against Espanyol were to have their assigned Coaches from Sweden and Canada see them in a full team scrimmage to allocate positions and tactics
The entire group was set to leave at 2 to go shopping in Barcelona then watch the UEFA Champions League return games at the Camp Nou with FC Barcelona against Olympique Lyonnaise.
UEFA Champions League: FC Barcelona vs Olympique Lyonnaise
The first match encounter in Lyon ended 0-0, so Barca was expected to come out in full strength.They did, with Lionel Messi was up on the score sheet from the penalty spot after 14 minutes, with a delicate chip. Coutinho followed up with the tap in after the defensive line was cut to shreds as halftime reflected a safe 2-0 advantage.
Lyon showed polish and positively responded to reduce the score with a sharp strike in the second half but it only seemed to have irritated the men from Catalonia.Messi sprang to life again to notch a second then set up another for Pique and substitute Dembele closed the show as the 80,000-strong stadia rocked with cheers, chants and songs as the 6 goal treat was a football lesson to behold.
Our group was dispatched all around the stadium, as it was impossible to get seated together for such a large group on late notice. Lank FC got heavily reduced prices at 60 Euros, while many of the actual ticket prices displayed from 105-190 Euros each. Hearing the game-long series of cheers, most persons dressed in their branded Barca replica shirts, scarfs, and outwardly supporting the club was an experience all in itself. Avid Barca supporters and “Messi worshippers” traded tickets for those closer to the field, hoping to get a chance to see their favorite player up close.
The game ended and the stadium drained its occupants quickly. The group moved out soon after with our bus in front, but as we reached the main road security stopped the bus on turning, as a throng of photographers, fans and admirers clogged our bus to see in a car.
Celebrity Sightings: Messi & Rakitic
The driver of a white Audi SUV, white hat, and white and black shirt was the man himself, Lionel Messi! He drove by as a few players spotted him. Our player Jabari Howell gave out the cry “Messi, mi Football God, you clean breda!” as he asked the driver to let him out to go and hail his idol at the stoplight. The once-injured Jamaican Goalkeeper, Tafari Chambers rushed forward with Shadane Lopez were now first in the line as the ‘Trini Posse’ rushed to the the front of the bus along with the rest of the players. Crazy became frenzy as a black Audi sedan cruised by the side of the bus, Ivan Rakitic at the wheels as Jesse the Trinidadian centrehalf exclaimed, “Rakitic, mi luv you bwoy” as he drove away from the screaming youngsters banging the bus windows.
The sightings completed, and hearts went back to normal beatings as the bus fell quietly to sleep as the hour and a half journey home to Salou unfolded at 1pm in the early morning. The night belonged to the “Sighting of Messi and Rakitic” and today we all lived our dream a little more. A good night was had by all, 2 trial games at 11am and 6pm are the next challenges.
3 Jamaican players, namely Jamaica College attacker Shadane Lopez (who went to Portugal with HVFC in November), HVFC and Reggae Boyz U17 invitee goalkeeper Denzel Smith, and left-sided midfielder/defender Trevaune McKain from MRC Academy owned by Onaje Bell.
Traveling across the island, the young men boarded the 11am Knutsford Express with our General Manager Clyde Jureidini, heading to Montego Bay airport for a 4:55pm Condor Airlines flight to Frankfurt, Germany and then onto Barcelona, Spain.
Upon landing at about 1:30pm, they met some of the other 32 persons participating while waiting on the 6pm pick up of the Luxury liner. More than a hour later, they arrived at the Cambril’s Sports Park in Salou area to register, find rooms, eat dinner and go to bed.
Training Day 1 in Barcelona
Breakfast at 7:30am, followed by 10am training at the 8-Field Complex with 16 new players joining the 20 existing Lank FC players who have been in development since January 2019.
New uniforms and coaches, including HVFC legend Hubert “Junior” Groves from his Masters Academy in Toronto, Canada. Parents are present with the cohort in full support, swelling reservations to about 76 in total. The first session was a warm up, getting to know styles of the players , stretching and coordinating with ease.
Lunch at 12:30pm is a blessing to rest as the second training session began at 4:30 – 6pm. The second session was much more tactically executed in high gear to be ready for the top class opening game against Espanyol FC, who leads the Under 19 ahead of FC Barcelona. Dinner, meetings and players resting early closed off the night, tomorrow is the big day for the boys at Lank FC.
Training photos by Jamaican-Canadian photographer, Karl Reid, whose son Ethan is in Barcelona to play in 2 trial games. Karl also represents Junior Groves’ Master’s Academy in Toronto.
Match Day 1: Espanyol FC vs Lank FC
A moment of silence was observed for the passing of the father of our player Casseam Priestley ahead of the game. This was the biggest of the 4 games scheduled against Espanyol FC U19 Spanish club. Lank FC arrived at their stadium for the game starting at 3:30pm local time.
An excellent display from a newly-formed squad brought smiles to the faces of the Coaches, Managers, Players, Parents and the Lank FC officials as they left the Spanish establishment at RCB Espanyol.
Defensively sound in the first half, good discipline in team formation and skills in counter-attacking worked, as few chances were created by both teams. Coach David and his Technical Team made 2 attacking substitutions at halftime with the skillful pair of Tyreek Magee and Che-Bennie, began to hold the ball and take control of the midfield area to open up their defense. 2 goalscoring opportunities were missed, the Espanyol struck right after down the left side to squeeze past Tafari Chambers in goal, 1-0 at 53 minutes.
Another chance was missed by Lank FC as Espanyol found a right-sided weakness again to go 2-0 in the 67th minute. The game was still open as both clubs traded attacks, with Magee, Alex, Jabari with Che-Bennie now swinging it towards Lank FC’s favour. The goal comes as Magee waltz by two more midfielders to hold up play, as Alex overlapped give Isiah and he played a diagonal to tee up the substitute Romario to tap in 1-2 at 78 minutes. Substitutions a plenty on both teams see out the game at the same score.
We drove back to camp a proud bunch, as all 97 persons get ready to head to the UEFA Champions League game as Barcelona hosts Lyon the next day. 2 more games scheduled for the next Lank squad here on trials on Thursday morning and evening. Last game for this squad on Friday.
Our General Manager’s final day in Barcelona before departure back to Jamaica, as the boys, coaches, managers and administrators get into the daily schedule of activities.
It began with 7:30am breakfast, then 9am arrival at the football field complex for the first session of training. The boys returned to rooms to change, freshen up and rest before 12noon lunch. This was followed by 1:30-2:30pm Spanish Classes in the Conference Centre then a 20-minute walk to the Complex for afternoon session #2 between 3:30-5:30pm. The Physiotherapist visited to attend to the injuries of the players.
Back to base after dinner at 7-8:15pm, followed by photos, interviews and/or meetings close the day before sleep as usual. Administrators usually meet to plan, exchange ideas, review activities, analyze and coordinate what needs to be done, altered, improved or discarded. Another routine day in Barcelona would be the last for our Jamaican chaperone, as the 6 players stay in Barcelona for at least another month in hopes of obtaining contracts.
Yesterday’s 4pm afternoon session was extremely intense as the Coaches turned up the heat; the boys responded positively. Some boys rented bicycles as most walked to and from training sessions for about 20 minutes each way to the 8 styled multi-field Complex. A chilly wind blew relentlessly for the duration, adding to the degree of difficulties.
This now included the new Goalkeeper Coach, Jose, who has a specialist program with Elijah and Tafari, before they joined the major group scrimmage. We all wished Technical Director, Siamac, a happy birthday in the team room, topped off with cake, snacks, drinks and presents, the group sang him the song as a nightly meeting closed the day.
Breakfast led to a short trip into the city of Barcelona, some 1hr 15 minutes away for team supplies, shopping and souvenirs. Lighter training day evolves with 9:30am gym work then a second technical oriented session at the complex. Dinner and a few interviews with administration meeting, winds down the day.
A totally new Lank FC staff contingent of 10 persons from Sweden, Canada, Spain, China and Jamaica are now getting fully oriented to working together to complete agreements and organizational fluency. An outstanding group of 17 players under the age of 19 years developing their craft in a genuine effort to become professional footballers in Europe .
Weather at 3 – 6°Celsius daily, dipping more in the evenings, is celebrated by some staff members as compared to the -15° in Canada and Sweden for example. Here is definitely not like our warmer 27 – 31° in Jamaica. All staff members wish to visit Jamaica soon for a camp and coaching exploration, hopefully later this year.
Departing from the norm is today’s theme, as the Administrators met deep into the night again in planning and saying goodbye to another staff member after his week’s work. This left HVFC General Manager, Clyde Jureidini, and the Technical Team in Barcelona to conduct the morning training session as the new fusion in philosophy was being cemented.
Sightseeing in Barcelona
The technical team went east, walking for 20 minutes each way to the football complex. Jureidini went south for 30 minutes each way to explore new horizons. Here are some of his scenes from the road!
The weekends are usually rest days in a European Academy Programme, as they mimic the football competition schedules with matches on a Saturday or Sunday. The players go to breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same times daily, except on Saturday due to inclusion of a gym and pool session.
New Head Coach, David, and Technical Director, Simac, both arrived on Saturday night and were introduced to the team after dinner. The previous Spanish Coach, Stephan, departed after a week on Friday night.
Team Building Exercises
Sunday afternoon consisted of a team bonding exercise initiated for all 17 players by the coaches. 4 groups were separated and tasked to make the highest structure from the floor comprising of noodles, string, cut up marshmallows, scissors, and creativity within an 18-minute window. Needless to say it was challenging, chaotic and funny but everyone had fun trying. The group of the “smartest ones” made their structure stand above others, and won a prize for the working well together. Many meetings followed through the night.
New Coaches & Classes
Morning breakfast moved into the first day of training with the new coaches; it went well. Lunch was quickly transferred to the first Spanish class, held at least 3 times weekly, where everyone is taught the national language. The boys applied themselves proudly in a genuine effort to grasp the concept of another language.
HVFC Manager Clyde Jureidini even participated to learn, refresh and educate himself, along with Manager Adrian who already speaks Polish, English and is learning Chinese. Most Lank FC staff members speak up to 3 languages naturally.