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Soccer Camp Review: Manchester United Soccer Schools (“MUSS”)

We made the trip over the pond and took our 11-year-old to Manchester United Soccer School.  This is a 6 day camp.  The location of the boys camp was Denstone College – a Boarding School south of Stoke.

The Location – Denstone College

IMG_1945Denstone College is usually a boarding school for boys focusing on athletics.  As a result, they have a lot of playing fields available for training.  The residential and main hall looks like something from a Harry Potter movie.  In fact, they told us it was on a list of finalist for filming locations.  I have to admit, the drive in was concerning … Denstone is a small village in the middle of nowhere.  It is not close to Manchester so you start to wonder  what you have signed up for.  Then, when you turn into the drive, wow…

The dorm rooms were set for 6-8 boys.  They honor room requests (as best they can).  Since there are so many boys to a room, it is reasonably likely your player will be with his mate.  Each boy has a bed, desk, and about 6 drawers.  The bathroom facilities are nice – private showers and toilets.

Registration/Check-In

We showed up near the end of the check in so there was a slow-moving line.  As a result, we missed the junior intro but they said just come back for senior intro.  There is staff everywhere and you go from registration room with a personal escort (a coach) to your dorm room.  On the way, you stop to put your valuables with another staff member.  Seamless and easy and professional.

What You Get

IMG_1940 (4)Room and Board and a Manchester United Training Kit with a matching Rain jacket (great idea).  The kit is a long sleeve nike red top with logo and a pair of white shorts and one pair of black socks.  There is no need for extra money although people left players lots. We left our son $20 and he didn’t spend it.

For the two-week course, instead of going to Old Trafford, you got to a theme park (Alton Towers) — yes the one where there was recently a horrible accident on a coaster.  But, as my host says, this is a very cool park.

The Price

The price for the 6 day camp was about $1500 US.  By comparison, the Dynamo Residential Elite 3.5 day camp is $850 US.  If you go for the 2 week camp, they usually run some discounts for the second week.  But, on a day-for-day basis, they are about the same price.  Neither is cheap and this is where you have to decide what you want out of the camp. If you are going to get evaluated, don’t bother.  I doubt any of the MUSS coaches work for United.  If you want to know what it feels like to be a professional footballer, this is the camp.  The living arrangements, scenery, and closing day at Old Trafford make this worth it to me.

The Quality of Players

IMG_2002Mixed.  It is open enrollment so all levels.  There are high level players but the camp is not dedicated to them.   One thing that is neat about this camp is that there were players from 36 different countries represented of 188 players.  My son’s best mate was from Kenya.  That is something you will not get from other places.

One thing you have to remember as an American attending, your kid will be immersed in European culture.  And, in some countries, their young men use language that you normally wouldn’t hear in the US at 11.  That was the one negative (among very little feedback) we got from the player.

The Quality of Staff

As you are unable to watch training sessions, hard to say.  My son is coach-loyal (loves coaches) and he is just 11 so hard to get a read from him.  The only thing I did learn for sure was that in the games, he let them sort themselves out and didn’t mix in or offer help.  I wish coaches intervened more in these situations.  Our kids come from a family of 5 where the motto is if you ask for it, you get the opposite.  In athletics, they never ask to play a position or demand it.  From my experience coaching kids, especially in camps, some kids need some help to be team players.  The kids that are penalized are the ones with better manners.

IMG_2066 (2)The coach played in the Swansea organization through his youth.  Low 20s.  Very nice guy.  He did not complete the evaluation but let my son complete it.  He did tease my son for calling him Sir.  (It’s a Southern thing).

Professionalism

Off the hook.  These guys know how to run a professional camp.  From the first moment you arrive, there is no doubt what is going on and what you need to do.  All dressed in official clothes (Man Utd).   And staff are everywhere.  The opening presentation was impressive with a breakdown for the week as well as a summary of Manchester Ideals.  Very good.

Communication

The camp does a good job with a Facebook page for the camp and posting pictures.  We were in the first week so there was not as much as the later weeks.  My son is not one to bother with communication so we heard little for him but he was not homesick and had a great time.

Closing Ceremony

For the players, this was a great day.  For the adults, not so much.  The players arrived at Old Trafford, ate lunch, went to shop, locker room tour, walked through tunnel, and ended in a Director’s Box.  Van Gaal was doing a presser with Memphis Depay on the field when we were there.  The players were just feet away from the presser.  They then marched them out (in stadium seats – not allowed to get on field).  I think for them, it was amazing.  For parents, you were mainly there to collect your player.  Short presentation.  Each kid got a medal.

Overall

I didn’t know what to expect with this camp.  Previously, had sent kids to University of Texas, LSU, local college, etc.  I think where this camp grades strongest is that the kids leave the camp loving soccer more.  I am not sure how much more you want from a camp than that.  The location and surroundings are beautiful.  The staff is uber-professional and littered with former professional players.  My son left with a greater passion for the game.  That is the best ROI I could ask for.  Do I wish they would encourage better language … yes.  But, as my English friend told me, it is more a cultural thing.

In terms of player evaluations, I just do not think that camps are the way to go.  There is a camp in England called the International Football Development Academy (iFDA) that may offer more concrete information and feedback and is allegedly attended by scouts.  I am looking into it and will post information when I get it.

Conclusion

After picking him up, again, he is not that talkative (I had one coach assume from that he doesn’t like soccer.)  He is a shy kid but I asked him if he learned a lot about soccer and he said he learned the same stuff we already do but from a different perspective and he liked it.  I asked if he would want to go back, he wasn’t sure.  This was his first residential experience and he went alone.  I think he was most put off by the language of the other campers.  He wants to be a professional footballer.

After attending the Dynamo Camp, I asked which he preferred.  He preferred the Manchester Camp.  My older son, who did not go to the Manchester Camp but did attend the Dynamo Camp said that if he went next summer, he would prefer the England experience, but had a good time at the Dynamo camp.  I can review the Dynamo camp separately.

Interview with Man United Legend Brian Greenhoff!

Brian & Jimmy Greenhoff lifting the FA Cup at Wembley, 1977

Brian Greenhoff

Brian Greenhoff was capped for England 18 times.  He played and was a regular in the starting eleven for Manchester United from 1972-1981.  Following his career at Manchester United, he went on to play in various places and clubs including Leeds United.  It was my pleasure to speak to Brian.  We had a conversation about his life generally.

His Roots

Brian was born in Barnsley, Yorkshire County, England.  Yorkshire is the largest County in England.  (A County in England is like a State here).  He grew up playing on the streets.  There was no youth academies at the time and no local clubs – young boys played in the street and then played for their school team.  If they were good enough, by age 13, they would be invited to play for their town team.  The best players would get invited to play for the county team.  For either the town or the county teams, players went through a series of Trials.  Professional scouts, although not like it is today, would watch the town and county games to look for players.  That is how Brian was spotted.

Brian’s father was an avid football fan.  He taught Brian how to play soccer and was the only trainer Brian had until he was joined the Manchester United Youth Squad at age 15.  His father was a “football oriented” man.  Brian received a lot of his training by playing in the streets with his friends.

Brian has an older brother, Jimmy, who played for Leeds United and eventually the two paired together in the starting eleven for Manchester United.  In 1977, they were on the field together when Manchester United won the FA Cup.

Early Playing Days

His first organized team was at the Park Road School.  They only had one team and, since the school had boys up to age 11, most of the boys on the team were 11.  Brian was not allowed to play in his first year – when he was 7, but was invited to be on the team as an 8 year old.

His next school was Race Common Road School.  He played there until he was 15.  They had two teams.  Brian played on both teams for four years – he played on the higher level team for most of the time he was at the school.

At the same time, at age 13 he played for the Barnsley Boys, the town team.  This was a big honor.  The games were played on the Barnsley Ground – the same place that the professional team played.  He stood out on the Barnsley Boys so he and a couple other players from Barnsley were invited to the Yokshire Boys’ Trial Day.

Making a move from Barnsley Boys to Yorkshire Boys was a big move.  He did well in the trial and was invited to the Yorkshire Boys squad.  To Brian, playing for his County was a big honor.

Brian was also an exceptional Cricket player.  Much like soccer, Cricket teams were organized through the town and county.  And, like soccer, he represented the Barnsley Boys and then the Yorkshire Boys.

Manchester United

While he was playing football for the Yorkshire Boys, Joe Armstrong spotted him.  It was raining.  Joe, with his umbrella, walked over to Brian giving Brian some cover from the rain, and told Brian that someone form the club would like to come and see Brian’s mom and dad the next day.  There was not much more to the conversation.  Sure enough, the next day, Johnny Aston Sr. visited his home and agreed with his parents to place Brian on the youth squad for Manchester United.

Brian was under contract from 15-18 with Manchester United.  As he put it, “you have three years to prove yourself.”  He had to move from home and was boarded with a family who lived one mile from the training ground.  All of his expenses were paid.  He went home on the weekends.   He did well during this time and, at 17, was given a two-year professional contract fro 20 lbs./week.  He negotiated his own contract at 19 and secured a new two year deal at 35 lbs/week.

Part of the responsibility he had as a member of the youth team was to clean toilets, clean the dressing rooms, clean the first team players’ boots and sorting the kits (uniforms) for each team.   At the time Manchester United had 4 teams:  First Team, Second Team, A team and B Team.  There were 4 games every Saturday.   He trained 3-5 times per week and went home on the weekends.  After training on Fridays and after lunch, they would pin the teams’ rosters for the Saturday games.

For most of his playing career to this point, Brian played midfield.  He was always deft at ball control and passing.  While he was training for Manchester United he was given a look at the back.  He spent the majority of his professional career with Manchester United playing as a centre halve (center back) along side Martin Buchan.

Brian made his first team appearance on September 8, 1973.   The highlight of his career was winning the FA Cup at Wembley Stadium in 1977.  During that game, his brother, Jimmy, played alongside him.

Brian made 271 appearances for Manchester United, scoring 17 goals.  He represented England 18 times from 1976-1980.

Brian’s Thoughts on Youth Soccer

While Brian has been involved in soccer at its highest level, he has spent some time working with youth teams in academies.  To Brian, the biggest challenge to youth development is the parents.  He was asked to coach a youth team.  He was amazed at all the shouting and instructions given to the kids from the parents during the game.  He derived a rule —  “if you are shouting from the sidelines, take your kid home.”  He continues:  “Kids want to hear one voice, not eleven parents.”  He honored that rule while his kids played.  He watched the game as a supporter, but gave no instruction or coaching points from the sidelines.  He is the father of three boys all of whom played.

Toughest Player he Played Against

Name a great player from the 1970s, and Brian has defended him.  From Johan Cruyff to Pele.  Brian doesn’t hesitate when asked who was the best footballer he played against — George Best was the Best.  In terms of troubling him at the backline, he had a particularly tough time marking Andy Gray because of Gray’s size.  Brian is 5’10 ½ “.

On his transition to center back

With his passing skills, vision, and ball control, Brian always considered himself a midfield player.  Yet, he moved to defense under manager Tommy Docherty (“Tommy Doc”).  They were referred to as “Doc’s Devils.”  Doc knew Brian could play it out from the back and he was encouraged to do so.  He did not mind the move to the back.  In his words, he was “just delighted to be playing.  Didn’t matter as long as my name was on the team sheet.”  As advice to youth coaches, he recommends playing kids in all the positions so that you can determine their best position.  Brian puts it simply – “try them or you won’t know.”

His Favorite Footballer

Paul Scholes – Brian loves the way he plays.  But, he says, don’t watch him tackle!

Current Footballer Most Like Him

John O’Shea for Sunderland (currently).  O’Shea is another Manchester United product known for his versatility playing both sides of the pitch as well as the middle.  Known primarily as a defender and defensive midfielder.

New Book

A book about Brian’s life and playing career is about to go on sell.  Here is a link to order the book Greenhoff!.  It is coming out this month.  http://www.briangreenhoff.com.

Tidbits

Many thanks to Brian for taking the time to visit with soccerthought.com.  Brian is active in social media and can be followed at @hoffgreen.