Petros Kausiyo in ALCOCHETE, Portugal
AS they look to approach the business end of their tour of Portugal, the message given to the Legends Football Academy players from their hosts at Sporting Lisbon has been unambiguous — patience and continuous hard work.
And given the ages of the Zimbabwean teenagers on tour here, the Sporting Lisbon Under-17 coaches have mostly used Portugal skipper Cristiano Ronaldo’s story as an example and source of inspiration.
Ronaldo would easily resonate with them as he is still active and idol to the majority of them.
The Manchester United forward also rose from humble beginnings in Madeira to become an icon in his country and a global superstar .
It is no surprise that Sporting Lisbon, where he honed his skills as a teenager, renamed their academy after Ronaldo.
The five-time Ballon d’or winner is still playing at the highest level at the ripe age of 37 and will lead Portugal at the World Cup in Qatar.
Sporting Lisbon assistant player co-ordinator and liaison manager Miguel Pereira as well as Under-17 coaches Jose Caldeira and Rafael Pinto have, in their different training drills, told the Legends players the need for patience and more hard work.
“Cristiano Ronaldo arrived here (at the academy) when he was a young boy like you and worked hard in training and was disciplined. “He continues to work hard and even if he misses and he does miss a lot of chances too but he keeps trying every time.
“That is the spirit you have to take with you every time and in every training,” Pinto told the Zimbabwean delegation.
A lot of emphasis has been put in trying to help them perfect their technique, passing and shooting. “You can do a lot of things in football like retaining possession and defending well but in the end you still have to create opportunities and score.
“For you to win you have to score and then you have to defend well,” Caldeira said
Pereira has been a symbol of hospitality, looking after the visitors’ on and off-field requirements.
He made it clear to the players that competition to get professional contracts at institutions around the world had become increasingly intense but not insurmountable.
“It is good that you are already in an academy set up at an early age and this gives you time to learn more.
“It gives you time to also make mistakes and learn again so that needs you to be patient always.
“You have to keep working hard, keep listening to your coaches all the time.
“A complete player is disciplined on and off the field and you have shown those qualities so you just have to keep it up,” Pereira said.
He added that players, even those playing in the elite leagues, needed to always have a strong mentality.
“There will be times when you will face difficulties and you can make the first team this year and find yourself being asked to train with the Under-23 side the next season.
“Such a situation requires strong mentality to deal with.
“You can earn big contract when you are just 19 and you still need to have a strong mentality to deal with all the pressure that success or failure can bring,” said Pereira.
The Zimbabwean players, led by coach Farai Dhliwayo, were given time off after their Wednesday morning workout to visit Sporting Lisbon’s home ground Estádio José Alvalade in the capital Lisbon.
That meant a bus trip of just over an from their base in Alcochete, a secluded area south of Lisbon. At the 50 000 seater stadium they learnt about the history of the club, which was founded in 1906, and had the privilege of playing in the first UEFA Champions League competition.
They visited the Sporting Lisbon locker rooms, VIP enclosure, hall of fame, sports shop and had a chance to watch a short documentary that chronicles the club’s multi-disciplines. Apart from the flagship — football — there are a more than 30 disciplines at Sporting club which include basketball, athletics, judo, boxing, rugby, netball, goalball and handball.
It is Sporting Lisbon’s belief that the club’s success story with Portuguese football and on the UEFA front, could inspire the likes of Adisa Chiganiwa, Preston Steblecki, Washington Mapuwa, Darrell Muusha and Hermish Charlie to aspire for greater heights.
Striker Mapuwa is currently on the books of Zimbabwean Premiership side WhaWha.
He is one of three Legends players on loan at the Gweru Prisons and Correctional Services outfit.
The others are talented midfielder Calum English-Brown, who has been one of the stand out performers in the domestic top-flight this season, and Washington’s elder brother Dibbellar.