Mathys Tel at the 'Arena of Change': A one-two for the future

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New year, new goals: Mathys Tel fulfilled a big dream in 2022 with his move to FC Bayern. He also has big plans for 2023. To start the new year, the 17-year-old showed the children from the 'Arena of Change' why it pays to always have faith in your path.

While Mathys Tel meticulously lays out a small training circuit of colourful cones, the kids in the 'Arena of Change' feel a growing urge to finally be let loose with the ball. FC Bayern's French youngster lets them know through a translator that he's come up with a few exercises especially for them, they just have to be a little more patient. It's a beautiful day at the FC Bayern Campus, the sun is bravely battling the chilly temperatures, and then Mathys Tel is done with his preparations on the mini pitch. "Everyone against him?" a cheeky boy wants to know. Tel grins broadly when this is translated to him. "No," he replies in German. "We're going to play together - come, come, come!"

Mathys Tel,  'Arena of Change'
Mathys Tel with the 'Arena of Change' kids.

The 'Arena of Change', the unique educational project initiated by FC Bayern together with SOS Children's Villages Worldwide on Campus, entered its second season this summer. 60 children between the ages of eight and 14 come together in four groups one afternoon a week to experience and live values such as community spirit, solidarity as well as tolerance, explains Verena Milasta, the project manager of SOS Children's Villages worldwide. The partnership between an internationally renowned professional club and a globally active children's aid organisation provides interesting stimuli from which the girls and boys benefit directly. And especially now, when the pandemic and its consequences continue to have an effect and schools complain about a lack of teachers, the 'Arena of Change' helps to give children in an uncertain world the feeling of having control over their lives by being active, experiencing self-efficacy and being able to immerse themselves in new worlds all the time.

This afternoon they have a high profile visitor and there's a great sense of joy because no player has been able to drop by for longer periods because of the pandemic. "If you look into the children's eyes, you can already see the answer to the question of how much they're enjoying it. Today, lots of dreams are coming true," says teacher Teresa Jehlicka. Tel also visibly enjoys the visit. At 17 years old, he can only empathise with the children, he says. This afternoon at the FC Bayern Campus reminds him of his own childhood: "I looked up to footballers - for me, it would have been the greatest thing if someone had visited us back then and played with us. These are moments that children enjoy. I hope they have fun." He doesn't have to worry about that. The jersey he signed for the 'Arena of Change' together with the kids will immediately be given a place of honour in the initiative's premises.

Mathys Tel,  'Arena of Change'
In an extensive Q & A session, Mathys Tel answered all the kids' questions.

Popular smartphone wallpaper

The visit begins with an extensive question and answer session. On the pitch, Tel might be able to play a quick ball and dash away - but here, seated in a circle, he has to face the music. Fingers dart upwards, everyone wants to know something about the France youth international, who moved from Stade Rennes to FC Bayern in the summer. Although he hasn't been in Munich for very long, he's "already a great role model for the children", says Anna Kronen, the second 'AoC' teacher. When the girls and boys were told who would be visiting them soon, one boy had proudly shown her the wallpaper on his smartphone: Mathys Tel in action.

The young striker, who scored an impressive four goals in 12 appearances in the first half of the season, is already a household name. "Ça va?" is how one girl starts the first question in French, and after her "How are you?" she wants to know how old Tel was when he started playing football. He says he really started playing at the age of five, and back then he never dreamed he would one day play for a big club like FC Bayern. That's also what his visit is supposed to convey: Dream big, pursue your goals - then you will achieve them if you believe in yourself and are always ready to give everything. One boy wants to know why he wasn't called up for the World Cup. Tel smiles: That would have come too soon. "But I'm young, there are still lots of tournaments to come."

Mathys Tel,  'Arena of Change'
From a suburb of Paris via Rennes to Munich - Mathys Tel thinks back on his childhood fondly.

Tel grew up in Villiers-le-Bel, a suburb in the north of Paris. Sometimes there are social problems in communities like that, but his family and his environment were decisive for him, he says: "I always experienced a lot of love and solidarity - I was taught many values and principles that still influence me today. We had a wonderful childhood."  The girls and boys of the 'Arena of Change' come from different schools, the groups are composed of all ages - a parallel to Tel's childhood, because in both cases there's this special setting, one you can find on every recreational pitch in the world. The young player recalls fondly: "We played football everywhere, on the street right in front of our flat, for example, and we just used the walls of houses or bollards as goals." Playing football with his friends taught him to assert himself. "I worked on myself a lot, every day - that's why I'm here at FC Bayern now. And here, too, I know that I have to keep working on myself and keep learning. I've had that in me since I was a child." He's particularly grateful to his family: "They always found a way to support me so that I can live my dream."

The question "What do we want?" is written on a colourful poster on one wall of the 'Arena of Change'. Underneath, the kids have stuck up notes with their answers. You can read things like: "I wish we would stop cutting down so many trees and buying so many things wrapped in plastic," or: "I wish that all people were treated equally". But this too: "No homework!" Mathys Tel always smiles when he's asked a new question, most often the kids ask whether he'll available for a selfie later. After he's revealed who he's already made friends with in the team ("Jamal Musiala, Jo Kimmich, Sadio Mané, Dayot Upamecano, Lucas Hernández, Benjamin Pavard, Kingsley Coman - basically with all of them") and how long he would like to stay at FC Bayern ("for a very, very long time"), everyone lines up for an autograph. His signature ends up mainly on jerseys and smartphone cases, because in order not to go over the time limit, everyone has to choose just one thing. Every now and then, a child's voice can be heard uttering a sweet "Merci beaucoup" as a thank you.

Mathys Tel,  'Arena of Change'
Having fun on the pitch - Mathys Tel and the 'Arena of Change' kids.

Tel learns German every day, and he already understands a lot of things pretty well when the children speak to him, he says, as they head out together to the mini football pitches on Campus to have a bit of a kick-about. His goal is to speak fluent German one day, because communication is important both on and off the pitch, says the 17-year-old. On his Insta account, he likes to use the hashtag #PrécisPasPressé - a guiding principle his grandparents passed on to him. "It reflects my personality," he explains. "It means you always have to try not to neglect anything at the exact moment you're in. You have to be focused in everything you do, on yourself, on the moment, on what you're doing. You have to have confidence and not let yourself be influenced by external factors." You can see it in the reflective young man's face that he sticks to that motto at every opportunity - in his answers during the Q&A session just as much as now, as he pays great attention to detail while setting up his cone circuit.

Beginnings in defence

Before they can get started, the FCB player gives them instructions: In the first drill, the kids have to run towards him, play a one-two and then shoot at goal. Whoever hits one of the small cones set up on the line between the posts earns applause. "Let's go," Tel says again in German. The girls and boys start enthusiastically. "It's just so cool how much time he takes for the kids: First being so patient with the questions and the autographs, and then he also put so much thought into playing together," says Teresa Jehlicka. "The children are incredibly happy." Just then, another one of the little cones goes flying through the air in a high arc, hit by a powerful shot from a boy in a tracksuit from SV Olympiadorf München. Applause rings out across the Campus. "Keep going, keep going," Tel spurs the girls and boys on again and again in impeccable German.

When he started to develop an enthusiasm for football, Thierry Henry became Mathys Tel's first big idol, he says while taking a breather. He himself was still a child when the iconic French striker ended his career, "but as I got older, I read up on him. He had a terrific career and is one of the defining players in the history of football: technically, physically, mentally - he had everything that makes a great player. It would be nice if one day I could also celebrate the kind of success he had." Interestingly, he says, he actually started out in defence. "At first it was unusual for me to switch to playing up front, I really enjoyed being a defender as well. But today I'm very happy as a striker." That's another point that's always addressed at the 'Arena of Change': It's important to get to know yourself, your strengths, your weaknesses - and to then make the appropriate decision for your future.

Mathys Tel,  'Arena of Change'
Mathys Tel having a kick-about with the 'Arena of Change' kids.

When playing football with the kids on Campus, Tel shows off both talents: It's a bit of a challenge getting the ball off him - and he certainly sets the standard when it comes to shooting at goal. In the final exercise, he stands between the posts. Cones mark where the girls and boys are allowed to shoot from: Red is furthest from the goal, "for professionals", he explains with a smile. Blue is for those who are not so confident, green for beginners, just a few metres from the goal-line. The kids put the green cone to one side right away: too easy, is the unanimous opinion. This is "Mia san mia" in practice in the 'Arena of Change' - just how it should be!

At the end of the visit, the children are able to ask to see a few skills. Stepover, elastico, rainbow flick, rabona - Mathys Tel can do them all. Only when one boy would like to see a bicycle kick does the young player shake his head regretfully: "Unfortunately, the risk of injury would be a bit too great. The kids nod in understanding. But at the Allianz Arena, when the season gets going again, he will give everything to score goals for FC Bayern - and, if it's necessary, he promises to do a bicycle kick. He did have to adapt to playing in front of 75,000 people in the stadium at first: "But I've learned to deal with the pressure - and the most important thing is that my teammates help me. Together we're strong, together we can achieve a lot." That's what he wanted to convey to the girls and boys during his visit today: that it's important to leave your own comfort zone sometimes. And that only by working together can something be achieved. The kids of the 'Arena of Change' were happy to take it all in. In the evening, Mathys Tel sent a special WhatsApp message about how much fun the visit was for him. 2023 can come.

© Fotos: Amelie Niederbuchner

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