Few would have believed that a young FC Goa side could hold its own against the very best in the business, but the kids in orange made the world sit up and take notice.
The Premier League Next Generation tournament was held in Mumbai recently and featured the U-14 teams of English giants Chelsea, Manchester United and Southampton. India was represented by the U-15 teams of FC Goa, Bengaluru FC and the Reliance Foundation Young Champs.
While FC Goa may not have been favourites heading into the tournament, the youngsters shocked the world as they managed to pick up victories against competitive sides in Bengaluru FC, Reliance Foundation and even Southampton.
The talent in the Goa boys was there for all to see, and U-15 Coach Antonio Prestley Pereira believes that the excitement in the squad to play a tournament such as this held them in good stead.
“They were very excited to be playing the tournament. We had a clear philosophy of playing football just like all the FC Goa teams play, and we stuck to it throughout the tournament.
“The opportunity to rub shoulders with the best was presented to us, and the kids took it with both hands.”
FC Goa’s Next Gen campaign could easily be described as a success based on the number of points the team secured, but Coach Pereira explains that it wasn’t the objective heading into the tournament.
“Our Technical Director Derrick Pereira told us that results were not the requirement, but it was necessary for the kids to go on the pitch and enjoy themselves.
“To be able to instill that feeling of confidence in the players was the main thing, and the players knew this was the perfect opportunity for them to express themselves.”
For fans watching the action live, FC Goa’s impressive youth system was a proud moment, and the quality in this young Gaurs side was given a stamp of approval by none other than Manchester United themselves after the very first game in the tournament.
“One of the coaches from Manchester United approached me and appreciated the quality of football we played. He highlighted our tactical approach to the game and was all praise for how well our kids handled all the pressure from such a big game,” Pereira said.
A thrilling 2-1 win over Bengaluru FC got the ball rolling for the young Gaurs, and they backed it up with a solid 1-0 victory over Reliance Foundation soon after.
Beating Indian opposition might not have been such a big deal for some, but the teenagers certainly did send shockwaves around the footballing world as they beat Southampton 1-0 in their penultimate Next Gen clash.
The Saints are known to produce some of the best footballing talent in England via their academy, and beating their youngsters was proof that this young FC Goa unit has a bit of steel behind it.
“Our kids were raring to go. They wanted to play everyone and they wanted to win and they made me believe that we could win,” Coach Prestley continued.
“When we beat Southampton, I got a little emotional. This was a huge achievement for us and it showed that we can play against the best and even beat the best. It proved that we were up for any challenge.”
Going from playing local games against the likes of Salgaocar, Dempo and SESA to rubbing shoulders with teams from the Premier League, proves that the kids have grown up in a very short period of time, and Coach Prestley believes that maturity is there for all to see.
“The team meetings with the boys revolved around what they wanted to do when they were back in Goa, which showed me that they had so much confidence and were already in the mood to take on their next challenge.”
The Gaurs ended with an impressive nine points from five matches at the Next Gen tournament, finishing in fourth place but with some impressive victories to show.
The club’s philosophy of playing the same kind of football through the youth system and all the way to the senior team paid dividends and the Coach seems to agree that this was the correct approach.
“It’s in our blood. The playing style is well documented and clear to the players, and as coaches it just requires a few motivational speeches to get them going and playing well.”
Finally, Coach Prestley reserved praise for FC Goa management, who not only provided such a big platform for the kids to express themselves, but the constant support that was provided through thick and thin.
“This was a dream come true. I want to thank the FC Goa management for giving us this chance to play against some of the best teams in the world. The results are there for all to see and I couldn’t be prouder of the boys for how they performed.”
With some International exposure now under their belt, the FC Goa teenagers will now turn their attention back to local competition, buoyed by their performance in Mumbai and ready to continue the good form and transform it into more youth success in the near future.