THE FIRST Arsenal football academy in Europe opened earlier this year in Carcavelos, in the grounds of St. Julian’s School. It was set up as the SoccerPro Football Academy in February by Portuguese former professional footballer, José Taira, who played for Belenenses, Salamanca and the Portuguese national team, and ex-marketing manager Nuno Fonseca.
SoccerPro is also the name of their company, which has artificial turf and pitch rental as its core business. With José Taira as the ‘Mister’, as Portuguese players often address their manager, the academy, which started out with three boys, now has 82 members aged from five to 16. “The original idea was to send our boys regularly to soccer schools abroad as a reward,” Nuno Fonseca, a former St. Julian’s School student, told The Resident. “However, when we approached Arsenal to discuss that, they said: ‘We want you to be our Academy’. We felt honoured. We are the first Arsenal Soccer School in Europe. Their other academies are in Hong Kong, Singapore and Egypt.”
In May, a team of Arsenal coaches visited the SoccerPro academy to train staff and players according to a programme developed by the London club. These sessions will take place once every six months. In August, a select group of boys participated in the annual Arsenal International Summer Festival tournament, where they won the under-13 Plate Competition. During the same month, six of the best Academy pupils, in a ranking in which their school grades were also taken into account, participated in a special Arsenal Football Clinic. Three of the boys made such a favourable impression that they are being closely watched by Arsenal coaches. Part of the contract is that Arsenal has first choice when and if the young players want to become professionals. It seems likely that many will choose football as a career. Portuguese/Irish Filipe Costa Ferreira, 15, told The Resident: “I dream of one day playing as a pro for Barcelona. I just love that club.”
According to Nuno Fonseca, Filipe’s dream is typical of most of the boys at the Carcavelos Arsenal Soccer School, who hope of becoming professional football players. “Their parents, however, stress that their studies must come first,” he added.
Coach José Taira agrees: “We keep in touch with parents and we talk straight with the kids,” he explained. “There are no taboos. I tell them that it is not easy to make a living as a professional football player in Portugal because many of the clubs are not financially sound. I tell them that their school grades must come first.” Hans van der Put