Saturday, December 16, 2000

Soccer academy, English pro club form partnership

By KATHY RUMLESKI -- London Free Press
December 16, 2000

In what is believed to be a first in the country, a local soccer academy has forged a link with a professional soccer club in England.

The London Soccer Academy and England's Grimsby Town FC have formed a partnership aimed at developing young players who could potentially play for Grimsby.

"It couldn't have been scripted any better. We've all come together this week," said Grimsby youth team manager Ian Knight, who spent the past week in London working with the players at the academy.

"We're setting this up to be a long-term development program."

The LSA, formed this year, was the brainchild of Londoner Cam Vassallo, who acts as the club's co-ordinator.

About 50 boys between the ages of nine and 17 are involved in the academy, which is for elite players from various clubs around the area and is run by volunteers. The head coaches is Sam Buragina and Mario D'Oria.

The players started training outdoors once a week in May and now work out of Soccer Magic.

Vassallo said he was looking for a type of affiliation with a professional European club to give the academy "some structure."

Knight contacted him shortly after he sent a letter to the Grimsby club, which has four skills centres of its own in England.

"There was a great interest . . . to find out where the players were at," said Knight, who plans to return to London in July for a week-long outdoor program.

"We're hoping that with Sam's influence and the things I've been able to pass on this week . . . that the nine-, 10-, 11-year-olds, they will develop significantly."

Knight, who has about 50 staff who work with him in youth development, said the prime age to bring players into the Grimsby program would be 15 or 16.

He said he has already seen "a few possibilities" in the London group he'll evaluate more extensively when he returns next summer.

"What I've got to do now is go back home and speak with my manager and the senior coaches of the club."

The LSA puts its emphasis on learning and skill development, rather than winning, which is an attitude that pleases Knight.

"We don't introduce competitive league standings in our match program until the boys are 16," he said. "There's no emphasis on winning. You're there for the love of the game. That's the way that kids will learn."

Knight plans to come to Canada once or twice a year to work with the LSA and in the future he envisions some of the players travelling to England for training sessions.

Vassallo said the partnership is exciting for the players, who now have something to which they can aspire.


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