On Monday afternoon across the vast, green playing fields of the Middlesex School in Concord, Mass., 140 boys and girls between the ages of 8 and 16 are tapping soccer balls to each other in small groups. One of the boys is 10-year-old Michael Sawicki. Mike Sawicki, Sr. watches from the shade of a tree and says it was easy to choose which of the zillion or so available soccer camps his son should attend.
“You know, he’s looking for all the camps around, but when I told him about Barcelona, it wasn’t even a question. It was, “Dad, can we go? And that was it.”
Dad, who is wearing a Barcelona shirt himself, anticipates great things from the choice he and Michael made.
“You’re hoping that the passing style, the teamwork, the discipline, that’s how he’s going to progress, and all the kids, that’s what’s going to help them down the road,” he said. “Plus being involved with one of the best teams in the world, that’s gonna help, the coaching staff and everything else.”
The camp does, in fact, feature the Barcelona brand. All the campers are in Barca gear. Much more significantly, Isaac Oriol Guerrero Hernandez, coordinator general of the soccer school run by the club in Barcelona, is supervising the Massachusetts operation in person. I asked him, in jest, if he thought he’d find the next Lionel Messi, Barcelona’s current star, in Concord.
“Our objective for this camp is to show the work we’re doing in Barcelona and around the world,” he said. “If we see a good player here, normally we inform to those responsible, but it’s not the main objective for us.”
Hernandez’s partner in the enterprise, FC Barcelona Camp Vice President David Evans, invokes the mystique of the team’s school in Spain when describing the mission of the camp.
“The Masia, this sort of mythical academy, where so many famous players have been developed and come through the ranks. I think six of Barcelona’s starting eleven have come up through the ranks there, and I think what’s really special about this camp is the guys that we’re bringing from Barcelona, from the Escola, are teaching exactly the same methodology to the students here,” Evans said. “So, nothing is dumbed down, nothing is watered down, they are approaching the game with our kids here in the same way that they approach the game in Barcelona.”
The most obvious manifestation of the approach to which Evans refers is the short, precise passing that characterizes Barcelona’s game, and the flair evident in a team never content to only defend. Players at all levels learn to depend on each other and to be where their teammates expect them to be. The club’s philosophy in training young players is that ball control and a creative approach to the game are more important than winning. According to Evans, when Barcelona’s youth teams lose to lesser sides, nobody at the club worries if the youngsters have learned how to improve their play during the loss. Even at the highest level, art and imagination are celebrated above mere victory.
And two fortunate campers from Concord will not only have the opportunity to learn the Barca way at Middlesex, they’ll be invited to spend two weeks in Barcelona, training with their Spanish peers. In the Middlesex dining hall, as his fellow campers eat lunch, Christian Andreas Steffano says that’s an opportunity he finds appealing.
“Well, I’m hoping that I get selected from here, and from there I want to join Barcelona, is my dream,” the 14-year-old said.
Steffano came here from Quebec, though he is originally from Palermo, Italy. I asked him how he’d go about impressing the coaches who’d be deciding which two campers would be invited to Barcelona.
“Work hard. Work harder than everyone else, and show them what I can do with the ball,” Steffano said. “Talk to the team a lot. When the team is feeling down, pick them up, and be part of a team, and think of each other as a team.”
It sounds like a plan. Which is not to suggest that everybody involved in the camp is as single-minded as Christian Steffano. Samantha Vilaboa, one of the coaches who is not from Barcelona, is working with 10 and 11-year-old players. Vilaboa’s family is from Portugal, but she lives in Massachusetts and played her college soccer at Williams. When the players in her group stumble over the ball or bump into each other, she’s not discouraged.
“They’re here to improve. They’ll get better,” Vilaboa said. “I am having fun. Playing soccer in the summer with kids is awesome.
The soccer camp in Concord ran for a week. Soon Issac Hernandez will announce the names of the two campers who’ve earned invitations to Barcelona. If Christian Andreas Steffano makes the cut, we’ll let you know.