The Sunday Mail
Petros Kausiyo in DUBAI
EXUBERANT Legends Football Academy teenagers, many of them on their maiden flight, were expected to jet into Portugal last night on a tour of Sporting Lisbon’s Cristiano Ronaldo Academy, which their coach Farai Dhliwayo has described as “a massive game-changer”.
The Under-17 players are set to train and be assessed at the famed Sporting Lisbon academy that was renamed after the Portuguese giants’ iconic player — Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo headlines a host of Portuguese greats that have come through the Sporting Lisbon school of excellence.
The other famed footballers include Ronaldo’s current Manchester United and Portugal teammate Bruno Fernandes and another ex-Red Devils star Nani.
Luis Figo, who starred for Portugal and Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid, also came through the same academy, as did big Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, who now plays for French Ligue 1 side Nice.
Portuguese international centre-back José Miguel da Rocha Fonte, who is with another Ligue 1 club Lille, is similarly a graduate of the Cristiano Ronaldo Academy.
And prospects of spending time at the academy has left the players and their coach Dhliwayo excited.
For most of the teenagers, it is their first time being on a plane, and they could not hide their joy as they bade farewell to family members at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport.
They clearly had nervy moments going through immigration formalities for the first time, before a journey that took them to Lisbon via a one-hour stopover in Lusaka, Zambia, and a lengthy nine-hour pause in Dubai.
“Our objective is to go and train with the best young players in the world. We need to learn and compare … We need to compare their methods with our own and see where we can improve,’’ Dhliwayo said.
“This will mean that we will have the type of players who can meet the standards required to play for UEFA Champions League teams in the future.”
Zimbabwe has been struggling to regularly export players directly from the domestic Premiership into Europe’s top leagues such as the English Premier League, Spanish LaLiga, Serie A in Italy, French Ligue 1 and the German Bundesliga.
In fact, most of the locally based top-flight players have of late been finding it hard to break into the South African Premiership.
Dhliwayo believes emphasis should be put into developing and giving exposure to players from a much young age.
“The reason we are going with a young team is so that we have time to implement the techniques we learn in the next two years before the oldest players turn 19.
“The two youngest boys in our group (Tadiwa Chakuchichi and Nashe Pepukai) have six more years to develop into world-class players.
“This is how development works.”
He also spoke about the importance of the off-field experience the teenagers will get.
“The boys from our academy come from very different backgrounds.
“Without the support of sponsors, it would not have been possible for them to get this kind of exposure and experience at such a young age. It is important that they get used to air travel, different cultures and different environments before being thrust into various national teams.”
In his invitation letter to Legends Academy, Sporting Lisbon’s academy director Paulo Gomes emphasised the importance of exposure the young players experience.
“Sporting Clube de Portugal is one of the biggest football clubs in Portugal and we have developed world-class players such as Luis Figo, Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo.
“During the training camp, the players will have access to our coaches and methods, and the goal is to improve the players’ abilities.
“We look forward to your participation in this camp,’’ wrote Gomes.