The life of little soccer stars | It’s LaLiga

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On three, two, one! the kids at the table with the Valencia CF poster started a Happy Birthday that rose above the murmur of conversations and cutlery in the dining room of the Abora Buenaventura hotel in Maspalomas, the tourist mecca of Gran Canaria. At the neighboring tables, populated by boys wearing tracksuits from Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, ​​Liverpool FC or Juventus in Turin, some turned to watch the scene or join in the cheers while others went about their business, to dinner, the talks and some friendly colleja. Then came the cake, the applause, and what looked like a gift bag from a distance. Little by little, they all filed towards their rooms, shielded by their respective leaders. That Thursday, March 24, would be their last night before the premiere, the last night they would go to sleep as what they seemed to the other guests present at the same buffet: a group of children in a kind of camp. The next morning, in the newspapers, on television, they would already be something else: the new Benzema, Oblak or Ferran Torres, full-fledged players, the great hopes of football.

On Friday, envoys from the main sports newspapers in the country were waiting for them. Nobody wanted to miss the twenty-fifth international edition of LaLiga Promises Santander, the tournament for children’s footballers (between 12 and 13 years old) that brought together the most advanced academies in Europe two weekends ago. A trophy that Real Madrid ended up lifting this year, as the main revelation of this season in LaLiga Santander had done before, the azulgrana Gavi, or consecrated figures of the stature of Gerard Piqué or Gerard Moreno, now in the ranks of Villarreal CF and one of the three Spaniards nominated for the Ballon d’Or in 2021.

First thing in the morning, some speculation circulated among the displaced journalists about the candidates to succeed them in the future. Seeing them arrive with their backpacks on their backs, preparing for the warm-up or conjuring up in the locker room – where the Atlético de Madrid team, for example, sang some verses of the mattress anthem at the top of their lungs – it was difficult to say who is ‘the good one’ . Everyone combs their hair, gesticulates and walks with the security of a star. And already inside the field of play, the mirage is even greater when suddenly realizing that there is the one who plays it with the delicacy of Pedri, the one who runs into space like Rafa Mir, the one who seals his band like Mendy…

The former Canarian international Juan Carlos Valerón, a luxury spectator in the band, confessed that he was impressed by the young people and the number of professionals that surround them, compared to his beginnings. In some cases, the twelve players summoned – actually a selection from the twenty that make up the squads at an age where they usually play 11-a-side football – were supported by a coaching staff of up to seven members: first and second coach, delegate, kit man, physiotherapist, doctor and even press officer.

Former soccer player Juan Carlos Valerón attended several matches in the competition.The league

Because, of course, one of the attractions of the competition is that it was televised openly and this year, moreover, on a weekend where there was no LaLiga Santander day. Which could mean that the words of a boy born in 2009 could end up on a newscast that millions of people watch. A circumstance in which the clubs, they admit, repair more and more either by offering guidelines to those who face a microphone for the first time or insisting on the repercussion of anything they say. Although in the era of social networks, many have profiles where they expose their image. Like Michal Zuk, a quality midfielder typical of the Barça factory who gathers more followers on his Instagram account than there is room for at Camp Nou on a match day, or Enzo Alves, son of Real Madrid captain Marcelo Vieira, who It has half a million followers on the same platform.

From Vigo to the Canary Islands to watch 72 minutes of football

To find signs of that nonchalance with which a birthday was celebrated the night before at the hotel, among so much professionalism, it was necessary to go out of the focus of the cameras again. Specifically, to a small space delimited behind the main stand of a stadium that the organization set up to accommodate some 2,500 spectators for three days, and which could be called the area of ​​​​tears. Because both in victory and in defeat, groups of parents always waited there with moist eyes to receive their offspring. These, briefly released by some coaches after the games to melt into hugs, kisses and questions about whether they were eating well, looked like children again for a few moments.

A large part of the fans that called LaLiga Promises Santander, dressed in shirts, flags, balloons, scarves and wigs, was made up of parents from Vigo, Valencia, Seville, Barcelona, ​​Madrid and even Turin or Lisbon. Andrés Pérez and Paula Martínez, the proud parents of Jaime, the captain of RC Celta, said that they had arrived the day before to do some sightseeing and would stay the whole weekend. “There is a very good vibe between the parents and we had a great time. Less to Dubai [donde los celestes jugaron otro torneo a mitad de marzo] We try to go everywhere”, explained Pérez, who was able to see his team in action for 72 minutes, 24 for each of the three games played.

UD Las Palmas fans during the first day of competition.
UD Las Palmas fans during the first day of competition.The league

The couple was among the most restrained in the stands. Even when his son came out crying after the second loss in a row, hurting his arm after a dispute, they didn’t even bother. But there were others, like Toni Fernández, who were truly excited to see little Héctor in the Valencia CF shirt. “Eixe es teu!” “Arbiter, the distance from the barrier!”, he shouted as number 10 planted the ball to launch a free kick that did not end in a goal, although three other shots did, after which the boy kissed the shield and left directly to point out a man who could not hide so much emotion and pride behind a pair of sunglasses and a mask.

The look of friends from school

For parents, coaches, journalists, even for the footballers themselves, sometimes it is not so easy to draw a line between the game and the competition, between the moments where one must show maturity and those that can be given to the typical innocence of age. In a break, the RC Celta coach recounted that they never lose sight of the fact that they are managing a group of children, to whom, beyond improving their performance, they must instill a series of values. A vision that was completed after his debut by the SL Benfica coach, David Sousa, ultimately chosen as the best coach of the tournament. “I think that the demands and sacrifices that we ask of them are a good school for the rest of their lives, whether in or out of football.”

Perhaps with less prejudice and concern than the rest of the protagonists, Pablo Mayor, Sergio Almeida, Pablo Sánchez, Sergio Cárdenas and Álvaro Guerra watched the show. That Friday the gang of friends had left the Sagrado Corazón school in Tarifa Baja, in the north of the island, to go to the south to see the friend who had missed class that day: number 5 of the UD Las Palmas, Rubén Weapons. None of them seemed too impressed by the fact that his teammate was playing against Sevilla FC, in a pitch full to the brim and in front of the cameras. “At recess we took a lot of balls from him, eh, but with the covid they no longer let us play ball,” Mayor was encouraged to comment, before shouting “let’s go Rubéeeeeen” again, in chorus with the rest.

At this point, and more so today, which is Monday, they will all be back to the normal life of a 12 or 13-year-old boy. They will have gotten up, taken the sandwich, the backpack, and now they will surely be sitting at a desk, in front of a blackboard, perhaps without giving so much importance to what they experienced a few days ago and that in a few years they will surely remember as a unique experience. .