By Cam Lucadou-Wells
A squad of skillful juniors based in Keysborough not only have their eye on the ball but on the global stage.
Under the gaze of The 12th Player soccer academy founder Luis Miguel Gorgulho, his team of under-9s bely their age.
At their training session, their ball control, balance, speed, craft and precision is well beyond their years. The ball zips across the width and length of the pitch at electric speed.
“These players would be among the elite in Australia,” Mr Gorgulho says. One of them he points out as the brightest talent he’s seen in 24 years of coaching around the world.
His players are hand-picked under a trial system, across a range of ages.
In 2020, The 12th Player is sending up to three of its teams to JSSL, a 400-side international tournament in Singapore.
It is regarded as the largest youth tournament in South-East Asia, watched by talent scouts from Europe.
At a cost of $2450 per child, it’s an investment that these talented kids’ parents are happy to make.
“We’re looking for a bit of good fun and some exposure but you never know.
“Different scouts look for different things – some like technical brilliance, others game intelligence, others speed and athleticism.
“It’s literally about being in the right place at the right time – and you have to perform.”
He expects his under-9s to be worthy of at least a semi-final berth, if not to win at next year’s JSSL.
A former coach and technical director for Arsenal FC in Europe and the Middle East, Mr Gorgulho says Australian kids are starved of international competition.
“Australia was seen as too far to travel to, or to send the family and kids to Europe.”
He and wife Linda landed in Australia two years ago, and fell in love with the place.
Early this year, The 12th Player was launched here to help give kids exposure to a greater footballing life – with a dose of fun.
Mr Gorgulho is impressed with football’s progression since he first visited Australia in 2005 – the first year of the A-League.
“I don’t think there’s much of a difference in the talent between Australian children and European children.
“The biggest gap is in terms of the coaching. We don’t invest in coaches enough.”
For more information go to the12thplayer.com.au