Every summer, in the shadows of the spectacular Dolomite Mountains in Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy, promising young football players from all over the globe gather to train at the facilities of the AC Milan Junior Camp. Similar scenes can be witnessed at the club’s other camps on the Asiago Mountain Plateau, in the foothills of the Alps; and at the Adriatic coastal resorts of Jesolo Lido and Lignano Sabbiadoro near Venice.
Although these summer camps are open to young players of all abilities from anywhere in the world, they are guided and directed by some of the Italian club’s most respected names. Familiar faces such as Filippo Galli, Stefano Eranio, Walter De Vecchi and Pierino Prati can be seen coaching and inspiring the next crop of participants who dream of following in the footsteps of their mentors.
Such is the allure of the camps in Milan, that over the past few years many famous people and celebrities have enrolled their children in the facilities. As a result, participants at the camps may find themselves playing alongside the children of former players, rock stars, racing drivers, politicians, film stars and even royalty.
Hundreds of parents decide to send their children to similar soccer camps across the globe every summer. For some, it is a chance to offer their children an exhilarating life experience in a new environment; where they can have fun, play soccer and make new friends with like-minded peers from all over the world. But for other parents, the reasons for investing in a soccer camp are far more serious.
Many parents send their kids to these academies (especially ones affiliated to professional clubs such as AC Milan) in the hope that they will get spotted by an eagle-eyed scout and go on to enjoy a fruitful soccer career. But how realistic is this? Do children really get scouted while attending summer camps?
Of course, there are never any guarantees and soccer camp representatives are keen to emphasise to parents that the statistical chances of any player becoming a professional are very low. Of the thousands who attend these types of camps each summer, only a few will ever be good enough to earn any kind of living from the game. And even fewer will make it to the highest level.
However, there have been cases where players have been scouted, and subsequently signed, by professional clubs as a direct result of attending a football camp during their summer break. By taking a closer look at the AC Milan Junior Camps in Italy, we can uncover a few of those success stories.
AC Milan’s network of summer camps have been established for well over 25 years and are currently guided by former player Filippo Galli, who works as AC Milan’s Youth Sector Technical Manager. In order to establish the blueprint for youth soccer that has now been put in place at the Italian club, Galli spent time at the academies of Barcelona, Ajax, Real Madrid and Manchester United, and studied the methods of coaches including Marcelo Bielsa, Pep Guardiola, Juan Manuel Lillo and César Luis Menotti. The club now has four main camps in Italy as well as others in locations around the world including Malta, Dublin and the USA.
The understanding that a future gem could be unearthed at any time has prompted the club to take a very serious approach to its junior soccer camps. Galli promotes the AC Milan Combined Method which he says takes a “multidisciplinary approach towards athletes” where “every training session is studied and structured in order to reach a multiplicity of complementary objectives.”
Those objectives cover technical and tactical awareness, athletic development, psychological relations and education. What’s more, Galli enthuses about the way children can “interact with other people of the same age and with adults both during their free time and on the football field; it is a unique experience!” And how the camp is designed to help participants to “fight their fear of making mistakes and to collaborate with their teammates.”
Each year, the very best players from each camp (worldwide) are invited to take part in the annual Milan Junior Camp Day held in the Lombardy capital. Youngsters who are selected will get to meet AC Milan players, train with the club’s best coaches, take part in a tournament, attend a Serie A match and enjoy the sights of the city itself.
At any stage of this process, a player may catch the eye of one of the scouts in attendance. Of those players, some may be invited to join the club’s youth ranks (or the ranks of another club), and a select few may go on to enjoy careers as fully-fledged professionals.
One such example is Ghanaian youngster Boateng Kingsley. After attending the junior camp in Cortina D’Ampezzo for three successive summers, Kingsley joined the youth ranks of AC Milan. He later went on to play for Catania, NAC Breda and Bari, before signing for current club Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia.
Likewise, striker Samuele Longo also attended the camp in Cortina D’Ampezzo and was eventually signed by Internazionale. He is currently on loan at Spanish Segunda Division side Girona where his team are pushing for promotion to La Liga.
Recent camp attendees Campeol Axel and Giacomo Olzer are now both prominent members of AC Milan’s current youth set-up. And it is not just outfield players that get spotted; former Junior Camp goalkeeper, Lorenzo Ferrari, is currently on the books at Hellas Verona in Serie B.
Other players who were scouted following their appearance at the AC Milan Junior Camps include Luca Baldassin (on loan at Lupa Roma from Chievo), Mika-Mario Rokavec (Lazio U-19s), Mattia Finotto (SPAL), Gabriele Zappa (Inter U-18s) and Boris Rapaic (HNK Hajduk Football).
Of course, getting scouted is still no guarantee of instant success at the elite level. English player Marcello Jones was treated to a trip to an AC Milan summer camp for his 14th birthday present. At the end of his stay, his was offered a place at the club’s academy by Filippo Galli. With an Italian mother and relatives in the city, he jumped at the chance and subsequently spent four years in the Rossoneri youth ranks, initially under the guidance of Filippo Inzaghi.
At the age of 18, Jones returned to England on the advice of his agent as his chances of breaking into the Milan first team appeared to be limited. He was due to sign for a club in Poland but suffered an injury while undergoing a medical. He has since recovered and spent last season representing Falmouth Town in his home county of Cornwall.
After speaking to those involved in organising and marketing these camps, it is clear that they are designed to be much more than simple profit-making enterprises. One representative of a sport and education agency we spoke to in Spain, described the summer camps as: “A life experience based around a shared love of football. Where like-minded young people from all over the world can gather and develop on a sporting and personal level.”
“Even those children that do not become professionals, benefit greatly from mixing with other cultures and grow to become more broad-minded and responsible human beings.”
For clubs such as AC Milan, it is important that these camps create an environment where every child (no matter how talented) can benefit, whether on a personal or technical level. An environment where wearing the red and black shirt symbolises more than just sporting excellence but also represents a set of values that can inspire people to be their best. Only when such a harmonious atmosphere exists can the very best players flourish, and only then can the club themselves reap the rewards.
Words by Neil Morris: @nmorris01
Neil was seduced by Italian and Spanish football at a young age thanks to the likes of “La Quinta del Buitre”, Sacchi’s Milan, Cruyff’s dream team and Batigol. His football obsession has taken him all over Europe but he currently lives in Spain where he works as a freelance writer/editor. A first novel is also in the pipeline. When he is not writing, he heads for the sierras to indulge his passion for mountain biking.