You've taken a Fulham Under-19 side to one of the biggest youth tournaments in the world, what can you tell us about the Dr Pepper Dallas Cup?
Well, it’s arguably the best-known tournament around, certainly for one that brings so many teams from different continents and cultures together. It was first founded in 1980, so the Dallas Cup is also one of the oldest too. It stretches right across the globe, and understandably there are a lot of teams from North, Central and South America that take part, but also, some of Europe’s most respected and successful clubs. The competition is high, and it is something that we’ll take very seriously. As National Under-18 Academy Champions, we’ll be there representing the Barclays Premier League, so that’s a great honour.
You’ve also been given the honour of opening the tournament against last year’s winners Coritiba of Brazil in the famous Cotton Bowl Stadium on Sunday...
And that’s exciting – it’s a real privilege. We’ve been drawn in Group B, and open the Dallas Cup Gordon Jago Super Group against Coritiba – which promises to be a fascinating game. They have an excellent pedigree at youth level and, like most Brazilian teams, will play with flair, imagination and no shortage of skill and technique. I think it will be a match of game-changing moments, so hopefully we can take our chances and make the most of the opportunities that come our way. As ever, we will try and keep the ball and open teams up, that’s how we approach every game that we play. Our group also comprises of Eintracht Frankfurt and LA Galaxy – so it’s a real mix. Every team gets the opportunity to play in the Cotton Bowl, which is nice, but we get the honour of playing the first game there. It’s a very famous stadium and has hosted many top sporting events, including the 1994 World Cup Final. It holds a 92,000 capacity, although I don’t expect it to be full to the rafters come Sunday. But that said, I know that Fulham have a big following in the States.
It’s certainly an exciting group to be part of, what is the competition like in the rival groups?
Well Group A features Manchester United, who got to last year’s Final, as well as Kashiwa Reysol of Japan, Club America of Mexico and local side Dallas Texans. We actually faced Club America in a tournament in Switzerland not too long ago, so depending on how things go for both sides it would be interesting to renew acquaintances with them again. In Group C, you have Danish team Aalborg BK, Toronto FC, Fluminense of Brazil and the second Mexican side Tigres. The winners from each group progress through to the Semi-Final along with the best runner-up. There is a second Under-19 competition, which features a variety of representative teams, including ones from Lewisham College and the Royal Navy. Below that, the tournament includes Under-17, Under-16, Under-15, Under-14 and Under-13 teams as well.
The Super Group is named after Gordon Jago – who coincidently was a former Fulham coach...
Yes, it’s an interesting story actually because he was a coach at the Club during the days of Johnny Haynes and George Cohen - if I’m correct it was towards the end of the 1960s. I think he worked at Queens Park Rangers and Millwall too, before going to America to work with Tampa Bay Rowdies. He then went on to Dallas Sidekicks, and settled in that part of the country to this day. He’s well known for his work in the game and even received an MBE from the Queen in 2006. I’m sure it’s nice for him to have us there and we’ll look forward to meeting him.
As an Academy you’re committed to providing our young players with different experiences within the game. What do you hope to take from the trip to Dallas?
Well it’s totally different from anything we’ve done before. Sure, we take our teams to various overseas locations, but none have been quite as far. We will be away for 12 days, we’ll travel across a different time zone and get used to a change in weather and overcome jetlag. Very rarely will we get the chance to face so many different styles of football, and that will be a great test. We play at 10am on the Sunday, and then again at midday on the Monday. Usually the boys would get more time to rest and recover, so that’s another adjustment. It will be a period of fresh challenges and fresh experiences, but that’s what development is all about.
As an Under-19 tournament, presumably there will be a few of the older boys involved in the trip too?
Yes, and because it is an Under-19 tournament we have had to reconstruct the team slightly. Whilst the squad is made up of a majority of Under-18 players, we’ll also take Sean Kavanagh, Jack Grimmer, Ronny Minkwitz, Ryan Williams, Lasse Vigen Christensen, Dino Islamovic and Charles Banya, who are all regulars of Kit Symons’ Under-21s. Saying that, most of those boys were part of the Under-18 team that were crowned national champions, so they played their part in getting Fulham to the tournament in the first place. It’s an interesting group, and we have high hopes, providing they gel quickly. We’ll be looking for the older boys to take responsibility, while for the 16 and 17-year-olds amongst the group it’s a chance to play a step above what they are used too. It will be a different process for each and every player.
Over the years the Dallas Cup has also been a competition that a number of the game’s top players have graced. It’s a great platform for our boys isn’t it?
Most definitely, it has a great history in showcasing the talents of some of the best young players around. I was out there as a representative of the Premier League in 2008 when Liverpool lifted the trophy. From that team, the likes of Martin Kelly, Jay Spearing and Dani Pacheco have all gone on to play for the first team, while many others have gone on and done well elsewhere. Further back the likes of Raul, David Beckham, Brian McBride, Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, Jermain Defoe, Ledley King, Michael Carrick and even Clint Dempsey have also played in the tournament. We hope a few of our boys will go on to be recognised outside of the Dallas Cup too.
Domestically, your boys have impressed greatly and are, now, without doubt one of the leading academies in the country. There’s a feeling that you’re going out to Dallas to further underline your credentials...
Look, we want to do well in every competition that we’re part of and we’ll do our best to get the results that we want. If our players can reproduce the kind of form that has been a key feature of both the Under-18s and Under-21s of late then we know that we have a chance of doing well. On our day we’re a very capable team, we just need to show that consistently over a short period of time over the coming week. As mentioned, Liverpool won the tournament five years ago, and Manchester United reached the final last year. Nottingham Forest and West Ham United are also amongst the previous winners, so English clubs have done well in the past. Like everyone else, I’m looking forward to seeing how we get on because it promises to be an exciting feast of football.
Fulham's Dallas Cup Under-19 squad: 1. Max Oberschmidt, 2. Josh Passley, 3. Sean Kavanagh, 4. Stephen Arthurworrey, 5. Jack Grimmer, 6. Ronny Minkwitz, 7. Ryan Williams, 8. Lasse Vigen Christensen, 9. Cauley Woodrow, 10. Muamer Tankovic, 11. Charles Banya, 12. Marek Rodak, 14. George Williams, 15. Emerson Hyndman, 16. Solomon Sambou, 17. Dino Islamovic, 18. Daniel O’Reilly, 19. Jordan Evans, 20. Cameron Burgess, 21. Noe Baba, 22. Lyle Della Verde.
* Dallas Cup images courtesy of Doug Fejer