As Maurizio Sarri’s side prepare to return to the International Champions Cup this pre-season, a spin-off competition for junior sides has been held for the first time.
Chelsea were one of 24 clubs invited to send their Under-14s to the inaugural ICC Futures tournament in Florida, a unique international event featuring the biggest clubs from Europe and the MLS. Hosted at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, a stone’s throw from the world-renowned Disney World theme park, this was the hottest ticket in town for any aspiring teenage footballer.
The initial format saw the teams split into eight groups of three; one European team, one MLS team and one state all-star team. The young Blues advanced with two wins from two, a 3-0 victory over Houston Dynamo followed by a 4-1 win over the North Carolina All-Stars. In the quarter-finals, two first-half goals helped the team beat Seattle Sounders 2-1 and set up an all-British semi-final against Celtic.
In the most dramatic of our encounters in Florida, Andy Ross’s side came from behind to lead but were pegged back with virtually the final kick of normal time and forced into a penalty shoot-out, which they triumphed in 5-4.
The purpose of our involvement in such tournaments, which form part of an extensive overseas tours programme throughout the Academy age groups, is to test our young players against varied styles of football and nationalities. Knockout football brings with it a particular pressure and developing the skills to handle that is undoubtedly part of development, as well as adapting to the physical and off-pitch demands, including being away from home.
The International Champions Cup Futures is unique in terms of its significant coverage for what is still, essentially, an under-14 tournament. The final was broadcast live on ESPN, while both players and staff were asked to give interviews to camera before, during and after matches - new experiences for all involved.
After reaching the final, the Blues fell just short of lifting the silverware, restoring parity once against Bayern Munich but failing to stop the Germans from winning 3-1. Nevertheless, the experience was an overwhelmingly positive one and Ross was full of praise for the tournament and his young players at the end of their week-long stay.
‘The tournament has been amazing,’ said the team coach. ‘It’s an incredible experience for our boys and just a shame for it to end with a defeat in the final but we have to learn from that. We’re getting into a lot of finals but we’ve got to find a way to play better and not let the nerves get to us.
‘When you look back on the tournament as a whole, it’s been great and the boys have done fantastically well so we can’t take anything from them.’
-Meanwhile, back at Cobham, Marcel Lavinier has signed his first professional contract at the club. The deal commits the former England Under-16 defender to the Blues until the end of the 2019/20 season.