The Lion City Sailors Elite Under-15 side were in Porto, Portugal from 27 May to 11 June, when they tested themselves in six matches against top-tier opposition and passed with flying colours, achieving five wins against S.C. Salgueiros, S.C. Braga, F.C. Paços de Ferreira, S.C. Rio Tinto, Rio Ave and a draw against Guimaraes FC. 

But beyond the results that came off the back of good performances, the trip offered these young Sailors an invaluable opportunity to experience what is required of professional footballers on a training trip, while also immersing themselves in the rich cultural tapestry of Portugal.

The success of the trip came not just from a commitment to the cause when the team set foot in Europe, but perhaps more importantly from the solid preparation work that was put in long before the flight left the Changi Airport runway. 

Under the guidance of Head Coach Mustafa Al-Saffar (Musa), the young aspirants readied themselves for this 15-day excursion, engaging in matches against more experienced footballers in Singapore with the objective of improving resilience and fostering a stronger sense of unity within the team.

“Work in Singapore was very important for us to prepare and also to gel our squad as a group and so we played against older age-group teams from Tampines Rovers, Geylang International and others too,” said Musa. 

Musa asserts that one of the key takeaways from the trip was the young sailors’ immersion into the crucible of training sessions to the intense focus on match preparations – all in the mould of requirements of professional footballers. The team’s time in Porto revolved around matches, allowing them to experience firsthand the dedication required in the top tiers of the sport.

“The way that we treat the players when we go abroad is not to pamper them like we are on holiday. There is work to do in the morning, there’s pre-activation, analysis sessions, and of course there’s the build up to the game,” he said. 

“So there’s a whole experience that they go through and of course, all of this is happening in a place 1000 miles away from their homes in Singapore,” said Musa.

“The biggest thing the boys can take away is the opportunity to get a taste of the lifestyle of a professional footballer.”

The decision to pit the team against higher level opposition, beyond what they would typically encounter in Singapore, turned out to be the platform for several learning moments and experiences for the team. 

“In Singapore, you always play against more or less the same type of players with the same type of style. However, in Portugal, the opposition was very different, they had immense quality, and even if they are smaller than you, technically they are excellent with the ball.

“Our last game was against Guimaraes FC, they had a few smaller players who looked easy to play against. But, good luck trying to take the ball off one of those guys,” recalled Musa, chuckling.

“The opponents were skillfully excellent and furthermore, there were bigger and stronger players who raised the level of physicality in the games we played in.”

For 15-year-old Rae Peh, the trip sparked an expansion of his horizons, and not just on the football field.  

“I faced good opponents that play with high intensity and competitive games that really test our abilities as a team as individuals. I feel such trips help us develop as a player really well as we are challenged both physically and mentally and I was definitely excited to participate when I heard about the trip,” said the central midfielder.

“I think some funny moments that helped us bond were the pranks on the players and coaches and also just overall joking around with teammates,” said Rae. “I think we became more resilient over the course of the trip that provided an opportunity for us to really gel.”

Beyond the football field, the young Sailors delved into the vibrant cultural landscape of Porto. City tours, visits to historical sites, and participation in cultural activities offered them a glimpse into Portugal’s rich heritage.

“Whenever we had some free time during the day we would explore the surrounding area by going on things like tours, city tours, different boat trips and cultural activities. I am glad that the boys got to learn more about the country’s culture through these activities,” said Musa, who recalled an impromptu encounter on the streets of Porto as a highlight of these explorations. 

“Once we had a nice walk to the city and there were a few kids playing in the streets, and our boys asked if they could play together. We played with them trying to keep the ball up and we clapped and cheered for each other, and we joked around, trying to say some Portuguese words too,” he reminisced.

Moments like these were seared into the memory of Rae, who is already looking with anticipation to next overseas opportunity. 

“I think we did really well as a team and produced some good results: we managed to stay unbeaten and I feel that’s a really positive thing. The opponents were definitely strong and they really challenged us to put up a good fight and I felt like we were able to compete with them,” said Rae.

“I feel as a team we definitely enjoyed such an experience and we are looking forward to more of such trips.”