City under-12s returned home from the Christmas Truce Tournament in Belgium last weekend with reason to believe that they’re the best in England.
After coming through regional and national qualifiers in the annual competition organised by the Barclays Premier League, City finished a hugely creditable third-place in the international finals in Ypres.
Over the course of the two preliminary tournaments and the finals, the Blues played 14 games, winning nine, drawing two and losing just three, with a goal difference of +16.
Mark Burton, Head Coach of City under-11s and 6-11 coordinator at the club, was one of the members of staff to accompany the squad and he reflected with price on the team’s fantastic achievements.
“I’m immensely proud of the team,” Burton declared, “Most of all, because they stuck to the Academy philosophy against the best teams in Europe and didn’t change.
“In some cases, teams change their philosophy to try and win a tournament but we didn’t do that. I feel that we were the best technical team out there, which is really nice to be able to say.”
...Mark Burton - Head Coach of City u11s...
The Blues saw off 25 other English teams to reach the last four ahead of fellow English competitors Arsenal in the event organised by the Premier League to commemorate the famous football matches in no man’s land during World War I.
The Christmas Truce Tournament is a 9 v 9 competition which sees clubs from all over Europe come together to contest games in a eight-team round-robin format with 15 minute halves.
In addition, the Ypres tournament serves as an educational, cultural and developmental event, with youngsters learning about World War I, forming relationships with other teams, as well as testing themselves against some of the best young players in Europe on the pitch.
City came through the regional qualifiers to secure a place at the national tournament back in September after emerging from a group containing Blackburn Rovers, Liverpool, Sunderland and Newcastle United.
In November, the boy Blues booked their place in the international finals after besting Bolton Wanderers, Reading, Stoke City and West Ham United to qualify along with Arsenal.
Head of Academy, Mark Allen, was also delighted with the squad’s performance over the course of the three stages, stating his belief that the team proved that their age-group was the best in the country.
“You set your benchmarks – first and foremost, you want to be the best in the country and then you build on that,” Allen said.
“They’ve earned the right to call themselves the best in the country and to represent the Premier League.
...Mark Allen - Head of Academy...
“It was a great experience for them on and off the pitch and, for many of them, it was the first time they’ve travelled abroad to play football, and without their parents.
“I think it’s fair to say that we grew into the tournament – perhaps one or two of them were feeling a bit nervous going into it, which is only to be expected as it’s a first for them in many ways but they really warmed to the task.
“More importantly, their behaviour, conduct and focus for the tournament was exemplary and I think that they were a credit to the club.
“It’s so important to us at the Academy that we produce great people, as well as great footballers, and I’m so sure that we’ve got some great people in and among the staff and those players.”
City’s reward for coming through the two rounds was a place in the final eight-team tournament which featured clubs who had won their own national qualifiers across Europe.
Borussia Mönchengladbach were crowned the 2013 champions of the Truce Tournament after defeating PSG in the final, while City finished third after winning a play-off against Anderlecht on the final day.
Over the course of the weekend it was also announced that as part of the Premier League’s commitment to the tournament and to the city of Ypres, the League is to build a floodlit third-generation artificial pitch as part of the centenary commemorations of the First World War.
The League is aiming to have the all-weather pitch ready by November 2014 with an inauguration to take place when the Truce Tournament marks the centenary of the war, with all 20 clubs set to travel over and take part.
Just six of the 16-strong City squad, comprised of ten 11-year olds and six 12-year olds had experienced travelling abroad to contest an international tournament before.
Those players were involved in the Jeuged Cup win in the Netherlands and supporters may remember that this team was introduced at the Etihad Stadium before the first-team’s game against Hull City back at the start of the season.
Their coach, Burton believes that the whole group will have benefitted from this latest challenge, both personally and technically, on and off the field.
“As part of the tournament, we went to World War I gravesites, cemeteries and took in all of the emotion and the stories from the conflict and learned about the sacrifices the soldiers made - that experience can only enrich their personalities,” Burton stated.
“Perhaps that took its toll of their focus right at the start of the tournament and might explain why we took a little while to get going in the finals but we took so much out of the tournament on a lot of levels - the players really got involved and it will be a memorable experience for them.
...Mark Burton - Head Coach, City U11s...
“When we got into our rhythm, we started to play really well and I believe that us and Anderlecht were the best two teams there and we were contesting the third and fourth place play-off which was odd.
“The compliments we received from the Premier League for the way our boys conducted themselves were just fantastic.
“We are so proud of them; they were brilliant on and off the pitch.”