The winners of the Gauteng Future Champions Talent Search programme for 2010 have returned from Brazil where they spent a week training with two of the biggest clubs in the South American country.
Promising youngsters Stephan Tlhabane Jnr, Andile Nqabeni and Sboniso Mncwabe, as well as Coach the Coaches Programme winner Sphiwe Tsotetsi, traveled to the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte, where they visited the youth academies of top clubs Cruzeiro and Atletico Mineiro.
Tlhabane was the overall winner of the Gauteng Future Champions talent search earlier this year, which saw over 6 000 players from the Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg central, Motsweding, Sedibeng, West Rand and Tshwane regions all competing to be one of the three to head to Brazil.
He says it was an experience he will never forget, and he hopes the football education he received on the trip will help him play in the South African Premier Soccer League (PSL) one day.
“It was a great experience, we all really enjoyed being there and you can see how much they love their football there. It was the first time outside of South Africa for me so it was an eye-opener to see the different cultures that make up Brazil,” the left-winger says.
“The academies were very professional and the standard was very high. I would not say that it is better than what I have seen in South Africa, I think we all coped quite well there and I think we could maybe compete at that level in their academies.
“We did a lot of technical training, tactical stuff, and did a lot of ball work too. In Brazil they play a very attacking game and they always look to get forward, which suited all three of us. After training we went out for dinner and saw some of the city. It was great to be there with Andile and Sboniso and I believe we will be great friends for a long time,” Tlhabane adds.
The 16-year-old Grade 11 pupil at Akasia Hoer Skool says he hopes this experience will open doors for him to get into a local academy and take him one day into the PSL for a long professional career.
Nqabeni returns to his Vodacom League team Soweto Panthers, where he is on loan from Kaizer Chiefs having signed a professional contract with them recently. He was also delighted with the opportunity to broaden his football and cultural horizons.
“Brazil was fantastic and I can only say thank-you to Gauteng Future Champions for giving us this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I learnt a lot about football and the way they play the game over there and I want to use that knowledge to make myself into a better player,” Nqabeni says.
For Mncwabe, who is part of the SuperSport United/Tottenham Hotspur Academy, it was interesting to see how the different academies operate, but he says that although there was a lot to be impressed about at Cruzeiro and Atletico Mineiro, he believes he is getting a top football education too.
“Everybody was so nice and friendly to us, we felt very welcome and I think they were genuinely interested in seeing how we play and looking at out style too. I really enjoyed it and learnt a lot, and maybe they learnt something from us too,” Mncwabe says.
Also on the trip was Coach the Coaches programme winner Sphiwe Tsotetsi who focused on the training methods used by the coaches at the academies to bring back to his Super Eagles FC side, where he looks after the Under-11 to Under-17 age-group teams in Dlamini.
The Head Coach of Atletico Mineiro Academy, Diogo Giacomini, had this to say about the three winners:
“We were very impressed by their performance. Their natural skill on the field was matched by a focused determination to succeed. We pushed them hard during training and they excelled throughout. If these are the future champions of SA, then I see only good things for their national squad in years to come.”
Atletico Mineiro took home the trophy for the 2010 edition of Future Champions Belo Horizonte, and as the top performing club from Brazil they will be competing in the 2011 Future Champions Gauteng Tournament.
The Gauteng Department of Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation MEC Lebogang Maile says he is pleased that the youngsters and Tsotetsi found the experience rewarding.
“In life you should never stop learning, whether you are young or old, and we hope that the lessons during this Gauteng Future Champions trip to Brazil will be used not only to benefit those who went to Belo Horizonte, but also those who they meet from now on. We know that they did us proud in Brazil, and we are proud of them, and will continue to give young players and aspiring coaches the chance to broaden their knowledge,” Mr Maile says.
For further information, please visit www.future-champions.net