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Watch: Investment in youth key to success says Andre Schembri at NxtEra launch

Former Malta international launches football academy

Football used to be known as a man’s game at the time of its inception, however, in this day and age, it has become the sport of men, women, and children of all ages.

At the launch of new football academy NxtEra, co-founders Andre Schembri and Luigi Fenech went as far as saying that teaching boys and girls from the age of five is crucial for the development of future Maltese players.

“NxtEra is not just a football school but is also a system we would like to introduce in order to change the culture of how we look at football,” former Malta international Schembri said.

“We’ll be basing everything on three pillars: quality coaching, where the coach is not the process but someone who follows the methodology and adopting it to the athlete in front of them as at those ages, development is what’s important.

“The second thing is parent education – one of my favourite parts – as I know that as parents our first instinct is always to protect our children and we need to educate parents because at the end of the day, we feel for the children.

Video: Chris Sant Fournier

“The third is first-class administration. The people who run academies must be credible and have vision. It might sound arrogant, but I believe that if there’s anybody credible enough in Maltese football, it’s definitely us and I think NxtEra will make a change in how we see football from grassroots level.”

Fenech, a football agent with past experience at Belgian side Club Brugge, highlighted that even for clubs themselves, producing talent will in the long run makes more financial sense. Together with Spanish academy MBP, Fenech claims NxtEra will implement a philosophy adapted to the local market.

“Football has become so expensive and purchasing players has become so much more difficult that investing in a first-class grassroots system providing players with all the tools they require to progress and be able to excel and make it into the first team, makes more sense,” he said.

“The difference locally, with no fault of anyone, is that our resources are limited and not focused centrally but divided between a large number of clubs. An issue is that for the number of people there are in this country, there are a lot of clubs fighting over limited resources, so we are immediately facing an upward struggle.

“With our partners at MBP, we will be adopting a couple of touchpoints that are being adapted to top academies, so there is no reason why we can’t make it. Last week we also confirmed an affiliation agreement with Club Brugge.

“It’s something very exciting and we will be taking our coaching staff and administration there in July and we’ll be sitting down with their directors of the academy and together with the philosophy we’re adopting with our partners MBP, they will be guiding us on points that are easy for us to implement in the local football market.”

Schembri emphasised that for this to be a success, players within their academy would have to follow only their programme until the age of 12 years, progressing through what he referred to as the foundation stage.

“In football, there are three stages: the foundation stage which is for children from five to 12 years old, the youth development stage with children of 13 to 17 years old, then finally the professional development phase which gives the player the opportunity to sign a professional contract if they are capable enough,” he explained.

“In this country, I see an issue of too much investment on the senior players and foreigners when in reality, investment should be focused on young children as they are our future.

“Being only with us is a strict policy from my end. We believe in our methodology and obviously, we can’t allow a player to train under many different coaches at the same time. We know that many parents send their children to train under many coaches because they want what’s best for them.

“However, studies tell us that it is worse for their development. After 12 years old, they can then head to wherever they desire.”

Game understanding

Players will be streamed into different groups upon application, with Fenech explaining that groups determined according to the players’ ‘game understanding’.

“Every child progresses at a different rate and what will happen is that our coaching staff will be analysing their level of game understanding and grouping them according to that. For them to obtain the maximum progress and potential, it is important that they are grouped due to their cognitive level,” he said.

Fenech remarked that more women in football is one of their goals as NxtEra.

“We want to focus on women’s football,” Fenech said.

“Most boys grow up being football-obsessed so that’s not going to be an issue, but we have to get more girls towards the sport especially when you consider the results we are getting already. There are more girls from the national team playing professionally abroad than boys and this is something we really want to push.”

Of course, in the case of children at such a young age, influence of parents comes into play and Schembri and Fenech both believe this affects the players’ resilience in the future.

“We see many Maltese players go abroad and come back after two months. That means that there is not enough resilience, and this is something that comes from childhood,” Schembri insisted.

“Our head coach Martina (Borg) has played abroad for five or six years, most recently with Roma, and is also a graduate in sports psychology. Martina told us that she was more than willing to take on the challenge but unless we do as much coaching with the children as we do with the parents, we’re not going to make it,” Fenech concluded.

For more information and application, one can visit: https://www.nxterafootball.com/

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