U15 Elite Cup at FC Bayern Campus
Tue, 10/10/23, 00:00
U15s Elite Cup at FC Bayern Campus
Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, Benfica, Juventus... At the U15 Elite Cup at the FC Bayern Campus, eight top European teams competed over three days for the trophy. FCB members’ magazine ‘51’ was right at the heart of it all.
An hour before kick-off, heads come together in the tournament management office. Three of them sit at a large conference table, printed sheets of paper hangs on the walls: a schedule of the weekend, the fixture list, a list of bus transfers and an overview of when each team's laundry will be done. A window offers the best view of the pitch. "Field mowed?" asks Sebastian Dremmler, the head of organisation. Next to him on the table are a mobile phone and a radio. The last details are sorted. When will the grass be watered? How will the results be reported to the tournament management? Then everything is ready for the premiere of the U15 Elite Cup.
From 18 to 20 August, FC Bayern invited clubs to an international U15 tournament at the Campus for the first time. Teams from Manchester United, Tottenham, Juventus, Inter Milan, Lyon, Monaco and Benfica made the journey. Of course, Bayern will also be taking part with its U15s. In two groups of four, the teams will first contest the preliminary round, followed by the quarter and semi-finals, followed by the placement matches. There will always be two games running simultaneously, one in the stadium and one directly next to it on pitch three of the Campus. Dremmler discusses the schedule with representatives of all teams 45 minutes before the tournament begins. Two 25-minute halves, five-minute half-time breaks, three substitutions per team, players who have been substituted can be brought back in. The team representatives nod. Then Dremmler says: "Good luck!"
While the teams warm up for the first two games, Dremmler takes a quick breather on the sidelines. For a year, a team of six planned and organised everything at the Campus. "We had to put a thousand pieces of the puzzle together to form a whole," Dremmler said. Round-trip flights for seven teams from five countries, around 90 bus transfers in Munich, hotel rooms and meals for 175 players, coaches and support staff, sponsors, referees, a stadium booklet, the trophy... "The Excel lists were forever long." Expectations are high for a tournament hosted by Bayern. "I've had a few sleepless nights," added Dremmler. "When all the travel dates were finally confirmed last weekend, I realised everyone was really coming! That was a load off my mind."
The teams walk out punctually at 10:30. In the stadium, Lyon are playing against Tottenham, while Bayern are taking on Juventus on pitch three. The small grandstand here is well filled, around 300 spectators have come. Opening matches are always tricky. Can you get your nerves under control? Will you manage to do what you set out to do? And how strong is the opponent really? Bayern and Juve delivered a hard-fought encounter with just a single goal – 1-0 for Bayern.
After the final whistle, FCB coach Alexander Moj gathers his players around him. "Congratulations, boys! That was a good game," he says, already looking ahead to the afternoon match against Lyon: "We still have to go one better." But first, lunch is on the agenda. "We'll meet in front of the dressing room at five to 12," he says. On the way there, he briefly analyses the game: "Juventus were a good opponent.” Especially physically, the match was demanding. His team had to fight back, even after a hard tackle. They are less used to this kind of physicality in the league. An international tournament also means international toughness - and the boys have to learn how to deal with that.
Bayern's U15s normally play in the Bavarian regional league, winning the title there and also the South German championship in each of the last two years. Every summer there is a shake-up. This time, 10 players were newly brought to Campus, many from smaller clubs in the region. "This is the first time these boys have been to a youth academy - and then you play against Juventus right away," says Moj, whose team is still in the middle of pre-season. "The tournament is a highlight, so a few are tense."
„We don't want this to be a one-off, we want to establish the tournament in the season calendar.”
After lunch, Bayern relax in the athletics area of the Campus. Physios take care of tired legs, a group of players have made themselves comfortable in a corner. Xaver Pucci comes out of the water tank with wet hair and a towel over his shoulders. "Running practice," he explains, because he has a little trouble with his hip flexor, but nothing bad. Xaver is 14 and has been with FC Bayern since U9 level. "The tournament is really cool," he says, "we have lots of top opponents, so you look forward to that." He plays left-back, with a drive to get forward like his role model Alphonso Davies. "I already want to show what I can do here," he says. "There are a lot of spectators. You want to deliver."
Meeting in the stands
Among the spectators are also some player agents. "Typically, at tournaments like this, 60 per cent of the spectators are parents, 30 per cent are agents and 10 per cent are club officials," one of them says the next morning. He asks to remain anonymous. The man is around 50, wears shorts, a polo shirt, sunglasses and has a coffee mug in his hand. Down on the pitch, Bayern are playing their last group game against Tottenham. They lost their second match the day before, an unfortunate 2-1 defeat against Lyon. Of the 22 players on the pitch, I'm sure each one already has an agent, he says. "The U15s are the latest time when you approach players." He uses the tournament to keep in touch with parents, coaches and staff. That's part of the job, he says. Just like organising transport services, school support, additional training, nutritional advice... The range of tasks is diverse. "Signing contracts is only a very small part of our work." Whether a player will actually make it into professional football is difficult to say before the U17s, he says. "A decisive factor is patience. We don't slow anyone down, but we also make it clear to our players that it only happens once every 10 years that someone like Jamal Musiala makes it at Bayern straight away."
Musiala's first point of contact with FC Bayern was Moj. Their paths crossed at youth tournaments in England, and a loose contact developed with the family. Moj supplied Musiala’s siblings with FCB fan items. Did that play a role in Musiala's later move to FC Bayern? "Maybe it helped a little," Moj says and laughs. The 34-year-old is now in his eighth season as a youth coach at Bayern. From the U13s to the U17s, he has coached almost all age groups. This is his second season in a row with the U15s. "At this age, a lot happens with the players physically and in terms of personality," he says. "They all have goals and are very driven." From the U16s onwards, the competitive level starts at the Campus. That's where everyone wants to go.
Only renowned opponents
"Things get serious in the U15s," says Jochen Sauer, director of youth development at FCB. From the age of 14, Bayern sifts through young players all over Germany, as they can now move into the academy at the Campus. Now it's also about the first contracts. From the U16s onwards, it is possible to sign development contracts with players, Sauer explains. So the teenagers are about to take the next big step. The Elite Cup is a test at the highest level. They deliberately invited only well-known international teams. "We don't want to know where we stand in comparison to Dortmund or Stuttgart. We can assess that quite well. We want to know where we stand compared to the top teams in Europe." And since there hasn't been a big international tournament at U15s yet, they just set one up themselves. "We don't want this to be a one-off, we want to establish the tournament in the season calendar," Sauer emphasises.
On the pitch, meanwhile, Bayern are picking up speed. A 4-1 win against Tottenham secured them victory in the group, and they also won the quarter-final against Monaco 5-1, with Xaver scoring a goal as well. "A tap-in. But a goal is a goal," he says and smiles. In the semi-final on Sunday, Bayern meet Juventus again, who were so unpleasant in the opening match. But this time the hosts win clearly by 3-0 and advance to the final. "I’m proud of my team, of every single one of them," says Moj. "In every duel you could feel the will to achieve this together." Xaver is also happy. He plays for a half in every game, slowly his legs are getting heavy. "150 minutes of playing time in three days is a lot," he says, "but for the final, you find the strength that you don't even know you have left.”
Kick-off is at 13:30. Six hundred spectators sit in the stands. Bayern against Spurs - the final match is a curious one, as Tottenham finished the preliminary round last in the group without a point. But youth football is sometimes changeable. The English club made it to the final by beating Inter Milan (1-0) and Lyon (4-2 a.e.t.). There, however, Bayern are too strong, win 2-0 and are happy about the trophy, jumping and splashing water. "We deserved to win the tournament," says a weary Xaver. His plan for the rest of the day: "Put my legs up and rest." Because the very next morning, it's off to a training camp - "with a good feeling," as Moj says. He is especially pleased with the way his boys performed. "We are coming together as a team." The Elite Cup could not have gone better. "Super opponents, with us in Munich, short distances. That has a future."
Dremmler thinks so too, and is "totally satisfied" with the tournament's debut: "We saw good football and only got positive feedback from our guests. That makes us want to make even more out of the tournament." Meanwhile, the visiting teams board their buses. Who took home the trophy is secondary. First and foremost, the U15 Elite Cup was about playing football. Three hundred minutes in three days for each team. In the end, everyone is a winner.
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