Most of you know that our lives have revolved around soccer (“fútbol” here) for quite some time. From my work at America SCORES LA to Jackson and Cassius’s experience with club soccer and street soccer in Los Angeles, we’ve spent a lot of time (and money) immersed in the beautiful game. That hasn’t changed with our move to Spain, but in some ways it has. Spain, of course, is a soccer crazed country. They’ve tasted glory winning back to back European Championships and the 2010 World Cup, and they are home to the best clubs in the world. Their training methods have drawn the admiration of countries around the globe, and the boys were excited to see what it was like to play here. It’s been a fascinating experience.
After a trial period, Jackson was offered an official roster spot with one of the top clubs in the province, C.D. WE FÚTBOL CLUB, and this opportunity to play on an elite team in Granada has been incredibly exciting for him.
The coaches and players on the team have been incredibly welcoming, and Jackson has really enjoyed being a part of the team. When his training gear arrived and he showed up in his WFC uniform for the first time, the boys said, “You’re one of us now.” The friendships have extended beyond the field as well, into Whatsapp groups and Clash Royal clans. It’s been great for him.
Understanding tactical instructions that come quickly from the coaches has been more challenging, but Jackson is adapting by the day as his Spanish improves. The bigger challenge that all foreign youth players are facing in Spain are the new FIFA transfer rules. They were put in place to protect the exploitation of kids by agents, but they have kept foreign kids from being able to participate in federated games until the age of 18. Jackson’s club has submitted requests to the Spanish Federation for him to be able to play in federated games, but it may or may not happen during the year. Although we figured this might be disappointing for Jackson, he has honestly not seemed to let this hurdle dampen his enthusiasm. He is training with his team 3-4 days a week, learning an incredible amount, and enjoying playing more than ever. His team is undefeated, atop the league, and he is proud to be a part of it.
Cassius is getting back into soccer after a break last year when he played futsal and swam on a swim team in Los Angeles. He is excited to be back on the field and is playing in the We Fútbol Club’s Soccer School (Escuela de Tecnificación) once a week. He has a great coach, and the trainings have been both challenging a fun. In addition, he been playing futsal every day at school and even received an ovation from Jackson’s friends after volleying a ball into the top corner last week. Cassius really missed playing soccer last year and this has provided him with the perfect opportunity to get back on the pitch.
So how is soccer different in Spain? Here are some pretty significant changes from our experience with soccer in the US.
1) Cost – It is much cheaper to play club soccer here in Spain. It’s less than $400 for the year at a top club and they have more practices and games than in the US.
2) Payment – Paying club dues is much easier here. Gone are the days of paying coaches, administrators, or team parents. We just went to the local bank with our player contract and the payment gets wired into the club’s account. They give us a receipt, and we are done. So simple.
3) Uniforms – Again, the process is so simple. No more writing down names and sizes, sending emails and coordinating with team parents or coaches. The club gives the player’s name and number to the store. You go to the store, try on the gear, and they order it for you. When it’s ready, they call you to pick it up. Jackson received a jacket, sweats, rain jacket, game uniform, training uniform, polo shirt, bermuda shorts, socks, and a backpack all for $70. Incredible. Also, similar to professional players, many players choose to put their first name or nickname on the back of their jersey (see below).
4) Parents – I love they way they remove parents from the experience in terms of what occurs on the field. There is actually a sign that states parents can never even enter the field before or after practices or games. Never. Ever. Players also have a legitimate locker room, which also separates them from the parents. It’s a place just for the players and their coaches, and Jackson has informed us that the guys also have a lot of fun in there.
5) Transportation – Also gone are the days of sitting in hours of traffic on the 405 to practice. Jackson and Cassius take the public bus. For away games, the club actually has their own team bus, and they will even help transport kids to practice who aren’t able to get there.
6) On Field Training – This has been one of the most interesting things to watch. Each team has 3-4 coaches at every training session, and the focus of each training revolves around technique and speed of play. The players are excellent, but the way they process the game mentally is even more impressive. They honestly cannot play fast enough. There is incredible focus on movement off the ball, and decisions must be made in a split second. Players are also asked to play some difficult diagonal balls over the top and crosses into the box, and technical precision is demanded. I have watched games in the US where it appears as if players are only moving primarily when they have the ball. In Spain, they only move without it. Andrea Pirlo said that players in the US need to learn to play more and run less. That also holds true here. Very different.
7) Off-Field Training – Jackson’s team uses the gym and pool and video analysis as part of their trainings. They are fortunate to train at a site with these facilities, but it has been interesting to see how they supplement their on-field trainings. They also have their own fields designated for their club only, so there are no issues with field space or practices at different venues.
8) Pre Game Schedule – They treat this time in the same manner professional teams do.
a) Players arrive and go to the locker room where the coach speaks to them as a group.
b) Players go to the field where they warm up.
C) Players return to the locker room where the lineup for the game has been posted on the wall along with diagrams for all their set pieces. They go over the set pieces as final preparations.
D) The team plays their official song (literally their own original composition) and the players sing it in unison. Pretty cool.
E) They return the field, lineup with the other team and referees, shake hands with flags, and applaud the parents before the game commences. Pretty impressive.
9) Games – All games are 90 minutes. Jackson’s teammates were shocked when they heard that his teams in the US were only playing 70 minute games.
Finally, I wanted to share that one of the great things about fútbol is that it is a language unto itself. It bridges cultures naturally, and the universal connectivity of the game has allowed Jackson and Cassius to feel more at home with the ball at their feet than just about anywhere else in Spain. Whether they are at the field, in the plaza, or at school, the game is there. It lives and breathes. It’s a part of the fabric of this culture–with the sounds of the game overflowing in stadiums, schoolyards, crooked streets, or from taxi cab radios that line Plaza Nueva. In just a few short months, Jackson and Cassius have become part of that culture here through their passion for fútbol, and we hope that the beautiful game will continue to provide them with fulfilling experiences throughout the year.