U15's Airdrieonians striker Lewis Gracie has recently returned from Lisbon where he was one of only 14 players from around the world to be given the opportunity to train for a month at Benfica's world renowned training facility. Lewis said, "I was really excited at the opportunity and couldn't wait to get over there and get started." Now he is back and has told us all about his once in a lifetime experience.
During his time at the training camp Lewis was put through his paces by top Benfica coaches along with 14 other boys who were from countries such as South Africa, Greece, Zambia, USA and Brazil. Lewis told us all about the facilities at Benfica and how overwhelmed and impressed he was by it all. "The training facilities were brilliant, like nothing I have ever seen before," he said. They have an indoor pitch, eight outdoor pitches and a gym equipped with all kinds of machines for building fitness and strength. They have a 360 degree dome which is one of only two in the world. This is used to help with touch/control and identifying passes.
"The training was much more intense than any training I've had in Scotland," he told us. "This encouraged us to become quicker sharper players and develop a better football mind."
He also couldn't help but talk about the much better weather he experienced in Portugal. "It was good to train in the sunshine for a change" he said. "Sometimes the heat made it harder though as we got tired quicker." He was well prepared for the conditions though as he was invited into first team training before he left by boss Gary Bollan and striker Bryan Prunty who presented him with a boot bag and a beach towel kindly supplied by the Airdrieonians Supporters Trust to show the fans were right behind him in his adventure.
Lewis also engrossed himself in the culture while he was there. He had Portuguese language lessons between tactical and technical training sessions. He also learned how to live the footballers lifestyle, aside from the fast cars and women. "We ate like professional footballers for a month and learned the importance of a healthy balanced diet to help develop our physical and mental wellbeing as athletes."
Lewis will look back fondly upon his endeavours and will take many things out of it. "The trip was of great benefit to my physical and development as a player and a person" he said. "I have come back a much sharper player, more focuses and with improved strength and fitness. I am able to play and understand positions around the park.
"Its the chance of a lifetime and helps development. I got to see how professional footballers live, met and chatted with them. That was good as it they gave us good tips and encouragement. I would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to do what I did, to definately go for it."