Over the last six months Nike have been scouring the UK for The Chance, a global talent hunt that aims to uncover talented teenage footballers who have been overlooked by traditional scouting networks. Nike’s scouts watched more than 5,000 players in the UK and an extensive series of trials has produced three UK winners: Liam Baker (a forward), Jose Figura and Ashleigh Artwell (both midfielders) were selected by a panel composed of experienced coaches, ex-professional footballers and Manchester United and England’s Rio Ferdinand.
By scouting thousands of youngsters in 55 countries the goal of The Chance is to form an elite squad of 16 unsigned athletes who will travel the globe, training with the world’s best professional teams and playing against the most prestigious academy sides. The UK’s three representatives will be heading to Barcelona for the Global Finals where they will attempt to claim places in the winners’ squad.
Ahead of this Nike made sure they were as well prepared as possible by putting them through their paces at Rio’s Boot Camp in Manchester. Rio Ferdinand has been involved in The Chance since its UK launch in March right up to the UK Finals, and he arranged for the three hopefuls to stay in a mansion, get kitted out in the latest Nike Football and Nike Sportswear gear, and benefit from a genuine insight into the life of a professional footballer player by working with a range of Manchester United’s coaches and experts.
This was, according to Manchester United 1st team conditioning coach Tony Strudwick, a “fantastic opportunity for these players to become part of the Manchester United experience” and he didn’t hold back when putting them through a rigorous fitness assessment on the first morning of Rio’s Boot Camp. They recovered from this with an introduction to yoga from the club’s resident expert before heading to the Nike Football Store where they embroidered their new Clash Collection boots with their initials.
The second day of the boot camp saw Liam, Jose and Ashleigh exposed to an England international and two of the best coaching footballing minds, as well as an England international. First team coach Rene Meulensteen taught the youngsters about the mental side of the game whilst assistant manager Mike Phelan gave them an in-depth insight into the tactical thinking behind preparations for every match. The three players also hit the training ground with Manchester United and England’s Chris Smalling who worked on attacking and defending with them.
For what they thought was their final day at the club, the finalists joined the reserve squad for a training session in what was a considerable step up in standard for them. All three, however, acquitted themselves extremely well, with reserve team coach Warren Joyce commenting: “looking at them this morning you would have expected that they would be at professional clubs already.” To give them one last boost mentor Rio Ferdinand dropped in on their final training session to wish them luck, give them a couple of pointers on handling the pressure of the Global Finals and let them know that he’d reserved them a prime table in his restaurant, Rosso, for an evening out.
As they were packing their bags the next day, ready to leave Manchester, the lads received a call inviting them to stay on and train at the club for the rest of the week – they were put through three gruelling days of double sessions with the reserves before being given the chance to join the 1 st team squad for the morning. This experience meant the trio set off for Barcelona on a high, but showed them just how hard they have to work if they want to reach the top…
With the Global Finals being held in Barcelona from 19th-25th August, Liam, Jose and Ashleigh will be boarding the plane full of confidence after Rio’s Boot Camp. As Jose put it: “We’ll go into Barcelona on our top levels, so it’s going to be challenge for the guys out there.”
To follow The Chance visit www.nikefootball.com.