It’s the dream of almost every kid, no matter what sport they play, to make it to the top one day. While the odds of becoming a professional sportsperson are pretty small, sometimes dreams do come true, as it did for the Brimbank Stallions.
A group of passionate junior football (soccer) players from western Melbourne’s Brimbank Stallions junior brigade hit the big league for five days in June 2018. Thanks to Italian football giants Juventus, a squad of 13 talented Stallions players, parents and coaching staff travelled the 16,000 kilometres from Sunshine in Melbourne to Torino in Italy to take part in this year’s Juventus Academy World Cup.
According to Sebastiano Disco, Technical Director for the Brimbank Stallions and Juventus Academy Melbourne, the seeds for this momentous trip were sewn around six years ago.
Leo Vargiu and the board of Club Italia Sporting Club decided, as well as offering a physical and social outlet for kids, the club needed a world-class pathway system that could identify and nurture homegrown future stars of the game. After approaching some of the biggest names in soccer – including Manchester United and AC Milan – the Stallions contacted Italian and European soccer club Juventus – and, in doing so, found their ideal partner.
As opposed to merely selling more merchandise, says Sebastiano, I Bianconeri (International nickname for Juventus. Translates to ‘The Black and Whites’) proved they had a genuine commitment to nurturing talent at the grass-roots level. Where the coaching staff of the Stallions once consisted of dedicated parents and volunteers, Juventus had greater grunt in technical and financial terms, as well as pathways and talent development to help kids maximise their potential.
Such is Juventus’ commitment to its junior talent academies around the world, the Stallions took up an invitation to participate in the inaugural Juventus Academy World Cup. Comprising 400 players from 32 teams across 16 countries, the Academy’s World Cup is a winner-take-all tournament battled out between the various Juve academies from right around the globe.
The tyranny of distance wasn’t the only hurdle the squad needed to overcome to get to Torino. A trip to Europe takes planning, as well as the time needed to put away the dollars. The considerable financial challenges weighed heavily on both the players and their parents.
With the season completed for the Stallions earlier in the year, and the June deadline of attending the tournament deathly close, concerted fundraising initiatives weren’t possible. Luckily, the club banded to together and found a way to make sure no stone was unturned to get them to the World Cup, thanks to the hard work of some dedicated parents who found a way to make the footballing dream of many of these kids possible.
Local business owners also stepped up to the plate. In particular, Bendigo Bank’s Keilor East branch donated money to so cover part of the costs.
“Between Bendigo Bank and the families, we made it happen for them,” says Sebastiano, with obvious pride.
Lights, Camera, Action!
As if the chance to meet and play football in front of their Serie A heroes wasn’t enough of a thrill for these youngsters, the organisers chose the Australian contingent as the subject of a documentary on the tournament.
Commissioned directly by Juventus FC, organisers were keen to tell a story about how one of the teams lived during the Academy World Cup. Already attracting significant interest because of the 16,000-kilometre trip, Melbourne’s Juve Academy found their names well and truly up in lights when they were chosen as the ‘stars’ of the show.
Capping off the media spotlight, one of the Stallions’ squad members, Nadal, was also chosen to read the Competitors Oath at the opening of the tournament in front of teammates, and competitors from around the world.
“I get knocked down…”
While the excitement and passion within the squad was palpable, results unfortunately didn’t go their way. Undersized, under-aged and ultimately outclassed, Melbourne Juve found the going tough against their older and more physically advanced opposition.
“It’s actually an under-12s tournament,” explains Sebastiano. “We had three kids under 11, and three kids under 10 in our 12 players.”
But the age and size differential wasn’t an issue for Sebastiano and everyone else involved with Melbourne Juve. Their involvement with the Academy and the opportunity to make the trip was a huge win for the small team from Melbourne’s west. As Sebastiano admits, the experience was the most important thing.
“We wanted to give these kids the possibility to play the sport that they love, in another country, with other kids from different nationalities who share the same passion. At that age, it’s something that’s unbelievable for them.”
“I said to the players afterwards, ‘This five-day tournament for you is like a full professional season’. The amount of emotion, the experience that you had during the tournament was like one year of training.”
And no one could deny they’d had the trip of a lifetime.
“… but I get up again”
With the dates for the 2019 Juventus Academy World Cup already confirmed, and overwhelmingly positive feedback from the parents involved, the kids from Melbourne’s west are already planning their next assault on Allianz Stadium in Torino.
Sebastiano, though, is more focused on the bigger picture of what this means for budding stars in Melbourne’s western suburbs with dreams of making it on the world stage.
“For me, it’s about what the club can give back to the kids in terms of experience. If you see the amount of kids that become professionals, it’s ridiculous because only a few kids can make it. As much as we can, we give them a qualitative experience.”
“For five days, they got to live as professional footballers – they lived in a hotel, they shared the space with their teammates, pre-game meetings, meetings after the match, games against kids from all around the world. It was something really special.”
If anyone thought Melbourne’s west was just a small, isolated pocket in the Southern Hemisphere, think again. This good news story from the Brimbank Stallions is proof that the world is the west’s oyster. We’re far more connected to the big players than you may initially think.