Young Swans in Europe

15th October 2013

Swans Academy coaches Tony Pennock, Gary Richards, Jon Beale and Jon Grey laud the benefits European football has on the next generation of Swansea City players.

While the Swansea first-team are experiencing Europa League football for the very first time this season, the younger Swans have also been on their own continental adventures.

Various age groups were invited to European tournaments last summer, with the Under-19s travelling to Holland in June, the U12s visiting France - also in June - and the U18s playing in Bosnia in August.

Meanwhile, a squad of 1997-born players participated in a tournament in Austria in 2012.

The visits abroad saw the club's youth players go up against some of the best talent Europe has to offer, competing against the likes of European giants Bayern Munich and Ajax, among others.

Academy manager Pennock took an U19 side to Holland and an U18 side to Bosnia, and believes the budding players gain so much from their time abroad.

"In Bosnia, we won the tournament," explained Pennock. "In Den Haag, we lost in the final on penalties, but it's the overall learning experience that is most important for the kids.

"The Den Haag trip was a prime example of team bonding.

"The Under-21s and the youth team had a difficult year last year with a lot of changes - players playing in different squads due to the numbers.

"We went to Holland at the end of May, and the boys responded superbly. We didn't lose a game; we only lost on penalties.

"The group grew a lot there, and it was the same in Bosnia.

"Education-wise, Bosnia was the main one. They were able to see what that country has gone through, and how they were trying to rebuild the country - what they have in terms of housing and things like that.

"To see how other people live and what they have, how unfortunate some people are, and how fortunate we are, compared to other people.

"It was an eye-opener for a lot of the lads.

"Football-wise, they had the opportunity to play against different opposition.

"A lot of our boys do get some international recognition, playing for the Welsh national teams, but they don't get to play against European clubs very often.

"Although they have played in tournaments before, when you are in a tournament like the European ones we've been in, the foreign teams do take winning far more seriously than we do.

"To have travelled abroad to the various countries we've been to, in the last couple of years, can only benefit a child."

Meanwhile, Gary Richards and Jon Grey accompanied Pennock with a squad of 1997-born players to Austria in 2012, while Jon Beale took an U12 squad to France last summer.

And Richards agrees with Pennock that the boys gain a lot from the trips.

He said: "the boys stay in the same hotel as the other teams so, before you know it, you find they're sat outside in groups, chatting to each other and swapping shirts.

"They're coming across different cultures that they wouldn't come across here.

"At home, our games are sort of non-competitive, as in we don't play for points on weekends.

"But when you go to a tournament abroad, against opposition that we wouldn't normally play against, we are putting the boys in a position where if they lose, they're out.

"They have to have that mentality to do everything they possibly can to win the game, which we always ask of them, but the difference is, on the weekend, there are no consequences."

But it isn't just the players who benefit from the visits to the continent, says Pennock.

The staff also gain a lot from the trips, through coaching against sides from different countries.

"As well as the kids, the staff benefit massively from the trips," said Pennock.

"While the kids play against foreign teams, we are coaching against foreign teams.

"We have played against a lot of different nationalities. For example, we've played Bayern Munich and Leipzig in Austria, where you could see their mentality towards winning was a lot different to ours.

"We've played Slovakian and Slovenian teams in Bosnia and Holland, and we saw how much more physical and bigger they were.

"You just see so many different ways of playing and so many different coaching styles. We can all benefit from it."

Grey agrees with his colleague's notion that the coaches gain a lot from the trips.

He added: "With us as coaches, you get to see who is the leader of the group, who is mixing well and who gets homesick.

"We learn a lot about the players' characters, just from spending time with them."

And Pennock says that the experiences the players have of playing against teams from different countries will be of huge benefit to them, as well as the club, in the long run.

"A lot of clubs love the international tournaments because they believe the first time a kid plays against an Argentinean forward or a German midfielder shouldn't be in the Premier League.

"The players should have experienced this over a number of years, so that they understand what it's like to play against those types of players, rather than just get thrown in one day at the Liberty Stadium, and they're suddenly playing against Ronaldo.

"That's the big thing about the international tournaments - kids do get to play against different types of players from different cultures.

"In the long run, it's massive benefit to us, and it can only benefit the boys long-term.

"When I was at Rushden & Diamonds, I was lucky enough to go on an end-of-season tour of Jamaica, where we played against the Jamaican national team in Kingston.

"We were the first Football League club to go and play a game in Jamaica, and that was an amazing experience.

"Playing at eight o'clock at night, in front of 10,000 fans. It was unbelievably hot. Experiences like those, you never forget.

"Hopefully the kids understand how lucky they are to have these sort of opportunities."