Italo McLeod (aka my son) is a budding football (Soccer for the less informed) player. Recently he had the opportunity to attend a couple of training sessions with the impressive Melbourne City Football Academy and he’s keen to share the experience.
Whether it’s crowd adoration, the chance of playing for your nation, the team bonding, or the lavish lifestyle, for many young boys (and girls for that matter), becoming a professional football player is the thing of dreams. It takes skill, hard work, dedication, practice, great coaching and a little bit of luck/help along the way. And then maybe, just maybe, the Premier League will come calling.
Rest assured, moving from ‘little league’ or social football to something more serious with a school or club is not for the faint of heart, or for those with wafer thin skin, as coaches, players and even parents can be brutal, but what if you can take the setbacks and naysayers and still hit the turf? Well Italo McLeod is keen to find out.
At thirteen years old, Italo has been kicking a ball for almost as many years. Yes his father’s friend got him an England shirt (with his name on it) as a baby and yes his father had him trying to shoot before he could walk (shakes his head), but Italo picked up the football bug and has run with it ever since.
Medals, cups and numerous ‘Player of the Day’ awards have kept the light shining brightly, but this football crazy lad juggles and dribbles balls at every opportunity, watches games on TV and live wherever possible, plays football video games, trains three times a week and plays on Saturday and Sunday – let’s call him ‘committed’.
For those keeping track, you may remember a few month’s back Italo had the opportunity to watch Coventry City FC from the comfort of their Directors Box, hosted by none other than the Chairman Doug King himself and his brother Will King (of King of Shaves fame), but it would appear that his luck hasn’t run out yet.
Following a conversation with a keen eye’d and very well-connected scout that he met at the match, Italo was given the chance to jump the ditch and train with the Melbourne City FC youth academy, he grabbed it with both feet.
Our trip began with a flight from Auckland to Melbourne on Air NZ. With finances being tight (Airpoints), we opted for the cheapest bag only ticket and although the service was good, the lack of food and the ‘pay to upgrade if you want to watch a movie’, did feel a bit cheap.
Anywho, upon arrival, things just got better and better.
Our friends at Nissan, (Sponsors of Melbourne City FC) had arranged for an ultra-sporty, bright yellow Nissan Z Proto to be ready for us to collect at the valet parking, it was the perfect size for two and ideal for the week we had ahead of us.
Half an hour later, we arrived at our first night’s accommodation (courtesy of Accor), the Quay West at Southbank. It’s a flash (albeit, non charismatic) apartment building on the outside, however, the modern and bright shining foyer was only overshadowed by the smiles of the check in staff, who immediately informed us that they’d upgraded us to a studio!
Twenty or so flights up in the lift and we entered our suite for the night, well-appointed with two TVs plus a half bottle of wine and a bar of chocolate to seal the welcome deal.
A great night’s sleep, shower under a monsoon shower head, and then a buffet brekkie had us set for the day, but we weren’t leaving without testing the pool, spa and steam room!
Begrudgingly leaving the Quay West, we headed south towards the Terrace at the Settlement at Cranbourne (thanks to American Express), receiving jealous glances of the Z along the way – did I tell you it was a manual 6-speed too.
The Settlement is a different proposition to the Quay West, it’s full of old Aussie character and boasts an ‘all under one roof’ experience, with food, pokies and dancing for the more mature of years. Again we were greeted with a smile and again we were upgraded!
The room was more of a traditional hotel room, however, the fixtures and fittings were darker wood and rustic, I liked it, Italo not as much.
With check in completed we headed to Casey Fields, the new home of Melbourne City FC to check things out.
The area itself is huge, with multiple sports spread over multiple hectares. We passed the AFL (with people running in all directions, kicking and throwing the odd shaped ball every which way and then fighting), baseball, netball, the list went on, and then we found the Football area. It too is massive, with multiple turf pitches, a secret (closed off) pitch for the 1st team and a pavilion the size of an ocean liner.
It didn’t take us long to find our host Simon Zappia and his broad smile and firm handshake was the best welcome yet. He showed us around the place (Italo got a pic with the 1st team keeper) and introduced us to the Academy coach Matt – more handshakes and smiles. Italo was handed a training kit and sent off to join the squad.
To say that the set up is professional is an understatement of the highest degree. The lads all high-fived each other and the coach and even welcomed the newbie Italo. With warm ups and stretches out of the way, the drills came thick and fast with general skills followed by ‘position specific’ tutoring. Cage games followed this, with ‘winner stays on’ rewards, and the session ended with more ‘gym work’. Two hours went by in a flash.
A good night’s sleep had us up early (2 hour time difference) and eating a continental breakfast, and Italo getting his first taste of Vegemite.
We hit the driving range for a change of scenery and then took a drive around the area, just because we could.
The training session for the next day was far more intense than the previous one, with minimal to no downtime and the U15s having a final game vs the U14s. Italo stood his ground well and had a couple of shots at goal – alas they were both saved.
The wrap up was quick with the coach and team thanking Italo for his attendance, more high fives and claps, so good, the squad is so mature, gracious and professional.
The next day, we packed our bags and headed back to NZ, with Italo carrying a smile that wouldn’t quit and an even more determined attitude. I gave a sad farewell to the Nissan Z as I dropped it back at the valet – sigh.
The whole experience was a cracker with many people to thank, if you’re a youngster looking to have football as a career, I urge you to look for a squad as organised and as professional as Melbourne City FC and if you’re looking to stand out from the road-going crowd, get a bright yellow Z Pronto.
We’ll keep you posted on what happens next.