Aberdeen under-12s were proud participants of the international youth football tournament MVC TOP D that took part in Maasbree in the Netherlands on 22 and 23 August 2015. Set in a country that prides itself on its development of young and aspiring players, the tournament attracts prestigious European teams such as Bayer Leverkusen, Chelsea, Borussia Mönchengladbach and local clubs like PSV and Feyenoord.
Gavin Levey, head of the Aberdeen FC Junior Academy, told Aberdeen’s official magazine RedInsider about the trip.
"For a while now, we have looked at ways in which we can raise the bar. For us, challenging our kids in European competitions was one of the things we wanted to try and push forward this year and this was a chance for us to go out and test ourselves against some of the best academies in Europe.”
The tournament did not start well for the Don’s youngsters as they lost against Feyenoord and AZ Alkmaar while holding eventual tournament winners Bayer Leverkusen to a draw.
However, the team showed a defiant and positive reaction as they beat all three teams they played the next day, proving victorious over PSV, Genk and Venlo. As Levey comments:“We were so proud of the kids. To go there and come in seventh position out of twelve teams was a very good achievement. Of course, we went there wanting to win but realistically, this would have been a very big ask. Even so, we still achieved so much. The kids came away knowing they had done well. We went into the final day on the Sunday knowing that seventh spot was the best we could achieve, so the fact they went out and won all three of their games and clinched that spot was excellent.”
Levey then continued to stress the importance of fostering a winning mentality in young players:
"For us, we develop players week in week out in a fixtures programme where there is not a league, there are no cups competitions, so there are no trophies. If you are a young player in Scotland and don't play for an international team from U14s upwards, you won't play for medals until reaching the U17 set up. That is not a bad thing as it is about developing players each week, but there need to be times where we can challenge players and where the winning mentality is tested."
While AFC gave a great account of themselves, even being mentioned as the surprise package of the tournament by a Dutch newspaper, Levey also acknowledges the stark contrast between AFC and the local sides with regards to technical ability:
"There were a lot of positives to take from the trip but also a recognition that there are things we need to work on. Within Scotland, Aberdeen players are known to be technicallygood players but when we played against the two Dutch Academy teams, Alkmar and Feyenoord, their level of technique was superb, not just in terms of skill, but their technique in terms of their movement, the way they shoot, the way they finish, everything in their whole game. I think it comes from playing on the small pitches they have scattered about the streets in the Netherlands. Kids are playing on them all the time, whether it be 2v2s, 3v2s, whatever. That was the one thing we said to the kids afterwards. No matter how good you think you are technically, you have now seen another level.”
Despite these teams being technically better, Gavin believes there is much to be optimistic about:
”For the boys it was such a good experience travelling abroad and preparing for games in another country. They were a popular group amongst everyone at the tournament and they made everyone at AFC proud.”