The five-a-side competition represented a significantly new experience for the players, but we adapted brilliantly to win the group and eventually claim the silverware, with goals from Tashan Oakley-Boothe, Rodel Richards and Reo Griffiths giving us a 4-2 victory over Bayern Munich in Sunday’s final.
Coach Justin Cochrane led a 12-man squad for the competition with goalkeeper Jonathan De Bie, also part of the Under-18s side that won the IMG Cup in Florida just before Christmas, named as Goalkeeper of the Tournament.
John McDermott, our Head of Player Development, was thrilled with the efforts of the players.
“It was a very different format for us but it’s one that really exposes people one-v-one so to go into something new, play against the top German sides and come out with the credit that we have done, we’ve got to take a lot of positives from it,” he beamed.
“This trip came from a recommendation a couple of years ago from Paul McGuiness when he was at Manchester United - he said United’s boys had been going to Germany in January because all the Bundesliga teams played five-a-side competitions and he thought it was an outstanding experience for his young players.
“We got invited to this year’s tournament with all the top names and I can understand Paul’s recommendation - I thought it was a wonderful experience. We went with the boys not having played in one of these tournaments before whereas obviously the German teams will have played on a regular basis. Justin Cochrane tried to do a little bit of homework on it but we still went into it quite naïve, so I’m delighted at how the boys adapted and did so well.
“To qualify, go through the quarter-finals and semi-finals and then actually win the tournament and beat Bayern Munich was a real testament to our efforts. It was a highly-competitive tournament with a few thousand people watching over the course of weekend, so it’s been a really, really good experience. Jonathan De Bie won Goalkeeper of the Tournament and I thought TJ Eyoma was another standout player - he would have been my Player of the Tournament.”
We got our group stage campaign underway on Saturday with a 1-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb (Jeremie Mukendi), followed by a goalless draw with Hertha Berlin and a 3-1 triumph over FC Thun (Mukendi, Paris Maghoma, TJ Eyoma).
A 3-2 win over Bayern Munich (Tariq Hinds, Reo Griffiths, Rodel Richards) and 3-2 loss against 1. FC Köln (Matt Lock, Armando Shashoua) on Sunday saw us top the group with 10 points, one ahead of Bayern Munich.
A 4-0 thrashing of Dukla Prague (Eyoma, Richards, Griffiths (pen), A Shashoua) in the quarter-finals set up a meeting with Bayer Leverkusen, which we won 1-0 (Hinds), before once again meeting – and beating – Bayern Munich 4-2 in the final (Tashan Oakley-Boothe (2), Richards, Griffiths).
Under-18 Premier League football returns this Saturday with a trip to Arsenal, before we host Norwich City in the fifth round of the FA Youth Cup next Tuesday (January 24) at Stevenage.