In Sailors Abroad, we take an in-depth look at the Sailors’ foreign stints, through the eyes of those who lived through the experience.
In this piece, Lion City Sailors Football Academy Under-17 Elite squad’s Nathan Mao shares his thoughts on the opportunity of training alongside his counterparts at Feyenoord.
They have been named the Netherlands’ best academy several times, with the likes of Robin Van Persie (RVP), Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Georginio Wijnaldum coming through the system.
The Feyenoord Rotterdam Academy continues to be recognised as one of the best youth football setups in the world. And just last month, some of the Lion City Sailors’ very own rising stars were embedded in the Feyenoord setup that churns out rising talents year after year.
Three boys from the Lion City Sailors Football Academy Under-17 Elite squad recently embarked on a 16-day training stint (29 October to 14 November 2022) at the renowned academy of the 15-time Dutch champions, along with the academy’s Head of Goalkeeping Kris Stergulc and Head Data Analyst He Qixiang.
Courtesy of the three-year partnership – which began in February 2022 – between the Sailors and Feyenoord that focuses on youth development and education, the trio – born between 2007 to 2009 – trained alongside their counterparts at the Dutch outfit.
Japanese midfielder Tyler Kawauchi laced up with the Feyenoord Under-14s, while Singaporean duo – forward Nathan Mao and defender Idzham Eszuan – were placed with the Under-15s and Under-16s respectively.
The three of them had already been in Rotterdam, in November 2021 as part of a 42-day training camp in the Netherlands as well as in Germany, and played against their Feyenoord counterparts then. This time, they are back in Holland in the same training facility and instead trained under the watchful eye of the Dutch coaches.
While training was usually only once a day from 8.30am to 11am in the morning, those were intense sessions with Nathan noting that the biggest difference was ‘the speed of play’ of the Feyenoord boys. As such, he had to learn how to play faster and release the ball quicker in training duels and matches.
The language barrier proved almost equally challenging.
“Even though the coaches will explain the drills in English, the players spoke to each other in Dutch most of the time – so we had to try our best to blend in and strike up a conversation with them.
“Of course it helped for us to learn a few Dutch words and we picked up a few relating to colour to help us with the choosing of bibs in training. The easiest one was ‘Oranje (pronounced as Oh-ran-yeah)’ which obviously is Orange in English.”
Apart from that, the trio settled in well and did not have many other issues. Technically and tactically, they felt they were able to fit in, while the chilly weather – which averaged around 9 degrees Celsius – was something they felt made for perfect training conditions.
With this not being their first time away from Singapore, they are now getting used to being away from Singapore to chase their dreams and there were no bouts of homesickness.
Idzham even had the privilege of training under the legendary RVP, who is now the co-head coach of the Feyenoord Under-16s – someone who he felt was a great educator who has the ability to explain what he wants very clearly to his charges.
Away from the seriousness of training, the boys had ample time to unwind in the second half of each day when the Dutch kids went to school. Staying at the Thon Hotel which is located in the heart of Rotterdam, they could easily access the city’s tram lines, and could not resist the opportunity to explore the city and learn more about the culture.
While they watched a couple of domestic youth games featuring Feyenoord, the highlight of the trip was being amongst some 44,000 fans in a partisan atmosphere at the De Kuip Stadium, watching the Feyenoord first team defeat Lazio 1-0 to qualify for the UEFA Europa League knockout stages.
The benefits of this trip clearly went beyond the boundaries of just football, with the boys learning to take care of one another away from the parental safety net that home provides.
“Tyler has a really bad milk allergy. In one of our last trips abroad, he accidentally ate something with milk and ended up staying a couple of days in the hospital. So this time, we made sure we checked everything he touched or ate so that he wouldn’t fall sick again,” Nathan revealed.
All in all, it was a beneficial trip for the trio who developed a better understanding of the game and made some new friends along the way – they have enjoyed it so much that they are looking forward to returning to Rotterdam should the opportunity arise.
“The people there were really friendly and made sure we felt very welcome, although at the same time we had to prove our abilities and show that we belong alongside them. The coaches also gave us a lot of good feedback on how to improve as a player.
“We’re very grateful that we players in Singapore have the chance to train with these top talents in the Netherlands and have a taste of the level they’re at,” said Nathan.
For now, Nathan and company believe they are on firm footing in the Sailors Academy that provides a similarly high-level of football training.
“In my opinion, the methodology and system we have here is really close to Feyenoord’s. We’re getting as many opportunities to expose ourselves here.
“Obviously there’s a bigger pool of talent in Holland, but we’re getting the best possible opportunity to develop with the quality of the coaching staff and methods we have in our academy.”