“Messi was someone we hadn’t seen before,” says his youth team captain and FC Goa defender Mark Valente
FC Goa defender Mark Valiente, 35, is comfortably finding his feet in India, saying the style of play and environment here are similar to what he trained in from his time at Barcelona’s academy as a teenager. The Spanish defender was in Barcelona’s youth team, leading a great talent and now the great of the modern era – Lionel Messi.
The defender talks about the early days when Messi was brought into the academy. As the team trained to play the fast-paced football that has become synonymous with Barcelona, Valente said Messi’s quality at the time stood out immediately.
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“When he came to our team, I think he was 13-14 years old. It wasn’t easy for him because he came all the way from Argentina,” Valente said. He could not play the first season. It wasn’t easy for him to get used to our playing, but then, he wasn’t shy. anymore, and you can see from the first minute that it’s completely different.”
Over the years, many experts have spoken of a young person’s first touch as being a good indicator of the quality they possess. For nearly two decades, Messi has become a symbol of that idea. But before he became one of the all-time greats with the help of his pure touch, Valiente and the others at the academy witnessed.
“What I remember from that time is that we used to play two touches – that was our style of play. We played side to side as fast as we could, using one or two touches,” Valiente said. He touched the ball maybe six or eight times [in the same time] We did two touches. It was something different that we’ve never seen. You could see he was a different person. We never knew he was going to become the best player ever, but Leo, at 14, was.”
Having been part of what is considered one of the largest groups of players to come from the Barcelona academy, Valente said that one of the key factors in developing young players is giving them an education as well as plenty of playing time.
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former India Player Izumi Arata, who coaches under-19 players at the Reliance Young Champions Academy, which aims at the all-round development of young talents, echoed this sentiment.
“Talent is everywhere. The pool is huge. You just need to put in extra efforts to get all over this country and I think Reliance is doing a great job by maintaining scouts in many cities and states to find the best talent from all over the country. Arata said: “We need more academies with this kind of vision.”
This season Hero ISL saw the coaches use the new spaced schedule to its fullest, as more and more young players were given playing time. Twenty-two players under the age of 25 made their debut this season in the ISL and 20 of them were Indian players, which is in line with Hero ISL’s goals of providing a platform for superstar Indian talent.
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