Foreign Academies in Russia – Talent Development or Money Machines?

Academy partner Aleksey Mishakyn and Juventus' academy director Gianluca Pessotto in Turin. Photo via Juventus.com

Academy partner Aleksey Mishakyn and Juventus’ academy director Gianluca Pessotto in Turin. Photo via Juventus.com

Earlier this month, Italian powerhouse Juventus announced that they would open two academies in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Over the past four years, the club has held a number of training camps for local youth in Russia, for example in Sochi between April 29 and May 9 this year, and in Maykop between June 12 and 17 this month.

Neither the camps nor academies are unique as the club have this kind of arrangements all over the world from Florida to Tokyo, and so do most other European powerhouses.

On Juventus’ website, they explain that the academies “allow young boys and girls from all over the world to access professional training methods validated by the club’s experience of organizing similar initiatives in Italy”, while also teaching the players “key values” that enables them to “develop both on and off the field of play”. It certainly sounds impressive, but is Russian football going to benefit from these new academies?

Barcelona shirt, commemorating the FCB Escola at a hotel in Sochi. Photo: Andrew Flint

Barcelona shirt, commemorating the FCB Escola at a hotel in Sochi. Photo: Andrew Flint

In 2015, FC Barcelona held the FCB Escola, a two-week training camp for children aged six to 13, in Sochi, and the Spanish club also has an academy in Moscow. Just like Juventus, the Spanish giants promised to develop the children, using their proven methods from the legendary La Masia academy. This was an event closely monitored by Russian Football News, who travelled to Sochi to look into the new phenomena of the big-club training camps.

According to Tatyana Gavrilova, whose son attended the FCB Escola, the main selection for the camp was the ability of the parents to prepay the asked 132,000 rubles, about €2100, for the camp, which then opened the door for ten days of training, accommodation, food and several tours around Sochi.

This is quite a significant amount for Russia, where the current average monthly salary is about €500. So obviously, sending your children to such a camp is a luxury, which only few families can afford.

“Considering the camp was created for profit making and not for identifying talented players, the cost is probably adequate,” Svetlana Denisova, who couldn’t afford to send her child to the camp, told RFN. It is however not for the lack of talent. Her son Artur has played football since he was four, and has already become one of the most prominent players in his age from the Ulyanovsk Oblast east of Moscow. Although being a big fan of Lionel Messi, Artur, Denisova explained, didn’t regret not going to the camp as he understood that it was out of his parent’s financial range.

It was clear that money was the deciding factor for FCB Escola, and that talent took a back seat. However, of course that didn’t mean that there weren’t talented players at the camp. By the time of arrival, the children were divided based on their level, and Gavrilova’s son was transferred to an older group of boys as he was more skillful than his peers and had previous football experience.

Asked about the objectives of the camp, coach Serge Pi told KubanTV: “Our goal is not to make these kids high class players. The main goal is to make them friendly and to give them a feeling of being part of a team,”.

After observing the camp, RFN has to agree with Pi. The camp was unlikely to make any future Russian internationals, but it gave the kids a chance to enjoy themselves, meet new friends and to experience life without their parents for some days.

In fact, the only thing that makes FCB Escola unique compared to other sports camps in the country is its connection to the Spanish club. This allowed the organizers to attract celebrities like Evgeni Plyushenko, a retired Russian figure skater and two-times Olympic gold winner, who spoke about how to become successful, and to give away merchandise with the famous crest on.

For those who don’t care about whether or not their child gets a Barcelona t-shirt, there are significantly cheaper options out there. This could for example be the Discovery League Camp in Moscow where 43,500 rubles, a little less than €700, gives the children 12 days of football training, accommodation, food as well as entertainment such as bowling and swimming pools.

Regarding the academies of the two clubs, the picture is similar. Once again, it is a luxury commodity with limited footballing outcome bar the development of team spirit and a love for the game. At the Barcelona Escola academy in Moscow, the players, aged four to 13, pay €315 per month for a nine-month program, which then includes two weekly practice sessions as well as a monthly internal training match day. The Juventus academy is slightly less expensive with prices up to €190 per month.

When looking at what the foreign academies and camps have to offer the young Russian football players eager to develop, it is limited compared to the exorbitant prices paid for enrolling in the programs. It is thus unlikely that they’ll in any way boost the performances of the Russian national team or clubs, but it should make some wealthy children and their families happy.

 

This piece was co-written by Ilya Sokolov (@Lokosokol) and Toke Theilade (@TokeTheilade)

Author: Ilya Sokolov

I became interested in football after the 1998 World Cup. Despite my dad wanting me to support Dynamo, I chose Lokomotiv (the name sounded great) and soon saw the team win the league for the first time in its history. Besides Loko, I also like watching Amateur League games in Moscow and its suburbs.

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