Football clubs look to Russia in search of new talent
thinkRUSSIA looks at how some of the best football clubs are tapping into the growing pool of talent in Russia.
This February FC Barcelona, the famous Catalan club, announced that it will open a brand new children’s training camp in Sochi, Russia. The club plans to train young footballers – aspiring to be the next Lionel Messi - on two campuses, with courses lasting a week. The camp is due to open this summer and will no doubt help build the sport’s foundations in Russia ahead the FIFA World Cup in 2018.
This investment by the Spanish giants in Russian youth football is a welcome addition to Sochi’s sporting legacy – after it hosted the Olympic Winter Games last year. The government’s aim of turning the location into a world-class hub of sporting activity now appears to be bearing fruit. It is also revealing that, along with Copenhagen and Tokyo, chief scouts at Barca saw fit to choose a city not necessarily known for producing footballing greats.
A growing investment
This is not the first such youth camp in Russia. Almost two years ago, Dutch record champions Ajax Amsterdam also opened a training camp in Istra, near Moscow, in a first step towards the creation of a larger youth football training programme. Tom Sauer, director of the then new academy, said: “The main idea is to let children have fun playing football the way Ajax does.” The camp is now fully functional, with between 90 and 100 children aged 9 to 14. They train twice a day together with Ajax’s best youth coaches while other activities such as table tennis and video game tournaments are available.
Although the fees for the week-long camp can be quite expensive, 30 per cent of participants are offered a scholarship or receive sponsorship by investors, ensuring that children from lower-income families have access to the training camps. According to Sauer, less than 80 per cent of the attendees are from Moscow and almost every Russian region is represented.
Moscow has also formed its own Youth Soccer League, a tournament for junior football clubs for expats as well as Russian nationals. Founded 15 years ago, it now consists of six divisions. In 2014 more than 650 children, aged 3 to 15, took part in the tournament.
Back in 2012, Henri van der Aat, Ajax’s commercial director, predicted, "You will see more football camps and later more football academies evolving here because there's a big market for it.” The most recent opening of FC Barcelona’s youth camp is proof of that.
As ever, FC Barcelona aims to recruit new talented players for its famed youth academy “La Masia”. It remains to be seen though if any of the young enthusiasts in Sochi will make it that far. Russia has a rich footballing tradition and, with increasing investment, it’s not unlikely we will see a Russian enter the Nou Camp donning the famous Barca journey soon.
Which Russian team do you support? Do you think this initiative will be a success?