Over Easter weekend, our U15s, along with myself and Jason Brindley, travelled to France to compete in the annual Le Portel International tournament, writes Kieran Lee-Birch. The tournament consisted of teams from all across Europe including France, Belgium, Russia, Romania, England and Wales.
Trips abroad are a great way for the coach to get to know his players more and I’m massive believer in creating a strong connection with my players. The more I get to know about my players off the pitch, the more I can help them on it. The time away from the actual football is a great opportunity for me to find out more about the individual. We utilise the time to find out what makes them tick, what motivates them, what their aspirations are and how we can help them achieve this.
Friday was mainly spent travelling. We travelled to Dover together via a team bus before getting the ferry to Calais. It was a long day, but the lads were in good spirits and excited for the weekend ahead. We spent Friday evening together, having a meal, before taking a walk into the town centre to familiarise ourselves with our surroundings.
Our first and only fixture on Saturday was at 2pm, so we had the morning to ourselves. We spent it team bonding on the beach. I am massive on team bonding. I believe the closer we can bring our players together, the stronger we will be in difficult situations.
We began the tournament with a group fixture vs Ubsco, who were managed by an ex-pro who had them setup well. They played a 5-3-2 and defended deep, which invited us to attack expansively, meaning they often broke with their two quick strikers vs our two CBs.
Ubsco raced into an early 3-0 lead with three quick fire goals. At half-time we talked about switching the play earlier to create 2v1s in wide areas and about the opposite side fullbacks positioning to help us defend the counter-attack better. Our second half performance was much improved but we failed to score, therefore we began the tournament with a 3-0 defeat.
We spent Saturday evening team bonding, playing heads and volleys, Wembley and football tennis. It was important we didn’t take our opening defeat to heart and not let one performance define our tournament.
On Sunday, we faced Belgian side Mouscron, who were a really physical side. The opening stages of the game were tense, but an excellent ball from Reece put Will through on goal, who calmly went round the Mouscron keeper to give us a 1-0 lead at the break. The game was won mid-way through the second-half, thanks to Welshy who finished well after a mazy run through the opposition defence.
We went into our final group game vs FC Versailles 78 knowing only a win would guarantee qualification to the semis. We started the game really well, creating numerous chances. We eventually opened the scoring with a fantastic solo goal from Reece. We continued to create chances but were wasteful in front of goal. Despite the amount of efforts we created, the opposition were a very good footballing side too.
They played out from the back well, looked to play through the thirds and worked hard out of possession. Our second-half performance was very poor, we didn’t manage the game well and let our emotions get the better of us. Versailles equalised four minutes into added time and with results elsewhere going against us, this meant we would not qualify for the champions’ trophy.
We had a great chat after the match and the lads where understandably disappointed. We spoke about the importance of game management, controlling our emotions and being ruthless in front of goal. I think it was a great learning opportunity for us as a squad.
On Sunday, we competed in the consolation trophy. Our first game was against FC Baltika Kaliningrad from Russia. In my opinion, this was our best performance of the tournament. We won the game 2-0 thanks to goals from Billy and Nick. What impressed myself and Jason most though was our performance. We built through the thirds well, were patient in possession and intelligently identified/exploited our opposition’s weaknesses.
Our final game of the tournament was vs FC Versailles 78, the team who had previously knocked us out of the champions’ trophy. We believed this was a fitting way to end our tournament, as we collectively didn’t believe we had done ourselves justice in our previous fixture. This was our chance to be everything we weren’t the last time we met, with the added incentive that the winner would lift a trophy afterwards.
The match itself was a game of two halves. In the first-half we played really well, dominating the game and taking the lead through Will. In the second-half, we conceded through an accidental individual error and had to hold on to take the game to penalties.
We largely concentrate on our playing philosophy in possession at TNS, where we like to play on the front foot and take the initiative. Therefore, it was a huge challenge and learning opportunity for us to have to play without the ball for large periods of the game, and at times, defend for our lives.
Jason and I were really proud of how we held on to take the game to penalties. The shootout was decided over three spot kicks and all of ours were expertly put away by Nick, Billy and Welshy (whose winning penalty couldn’t have been hit any better!). There were great scenes as Welshy riffled his penalty top bins to win the trophy, and he was immediately mobbed by his teammates. There was a real unity and bond between the group which was great to see.
— TNS Academy (@TnsAcademy) April 22, 2019
In conclusion, the trip was very successful, not only on the pitch but off it as well. Myself and Jason got to strengthen our connection with the players, while reinforcing important life skills such as time management, taking responsibility and preparing correctly.
It’s important we live in the real world. Unfortunately, not every player who joins TNS will make it as a pro, however every player who leaves TNS must leave as a better human being.
I’d like to finish the report by thanking Jason for his help, guidance and knowledge over the trip, Ian and Lee (our parents/ultras) who gave up their Easter weekend to support the team, and most importantly the players for making the trip so enjoyable.