Michael Burgess

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Soccer: Schoolboy's dream chance

Stephen Carmichael will soon be rubbing shoulders with footballing greats at Barcelona. Photo / Michael Craig
Stephen Carmichael will soon be rubbing shoulders with footballing greats at Barcelona. Photo / Michael Craig

Yesterday Stephen Carmichael turned out for his Sacred Heart first XI team in front of a smattering of spectators at Kelston Boys' High School.

Next week the Auckland schoolboy will be in Barcelona, trialling in front of coaches from La Liga and Serie A and rubbing shoulders with Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and former Barca manager Pep Guardiola.

Carmichael will be one of 100 young footballers descending on Barcelona, drawn from 55 countries around the world. They are there for the global finals of The Chance - a Nike initiative to uncover the greatest unsigned footballing talent on the planet. The chosen 100 will spend eight days in Barcelona, with daily trials along with other physical tests.

There will also be visits to the Camp Nou stadium and La Masia, Barcelona's famed youth academy that has developed many of their current stars including Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernandez.

"Obviously I'm pretty excited and nervous," Carmichael told the Herald on Sunday.

"I can't wait to get over there and see what I can do. My dream is to be a professional footballer and this is a big chance for me."

"This is a massive opportunity for Stephen," says former All White Danny Hay, who coaches Carmichael at the East Auckland school. "It is the most professional environment he will have been in and it will be mentally and physically tiring at times. He needs to show all of his attributes on a consistent basis - he can't afford to go into his shell. It could be a defining moment for him, at an age where things need to happen if you want to make it."

Beginning early this year, over 75,000 took part in The Chance trials across the globe, including over 5000 in England alone, where there were just eight spots up for grabs. Carmichael was one of six Kiwis (and 32 Australians) who made the cut for the Pacific finals last month and then made the final three for Spain.

After eight days of trials and testing, in front of coaches and staff from Barcelona, Sevilla, Inter Milan and Villareal among others, the best 16 players will be chosen. They will then go on tour, playing matches against the youth teams from Manchester United and Juventus as well as the the United States under-18 team and Portland Timbers Reserves.

The last time the competition was held (in 2010) there were eight graduates and all but one is now with a professional club. Central Coast Mariners star Tomas Rogic is the poster boy for the scheme; the previously unknown teenager lit up the A-League last year and has already made his international debut for Australia.

Carmichael spent his formative football years at Manurewa and also had five years at Wynton Rufer's academy. He has played for Three Kings, Bay Olympic and Central United and appeared for Auckland City in last year's ASB Premiership. The striker came to national prominence at the Under-17 World Cup in 2011, when he scored a hat trick in a 4-1 win over Uzbekistan.

"Stephen is a very intelligent footballer," says Hay, who played in the English Premier League for Leeds. "He has good movement off the ball and defenders find it hard to mark him. He has a good first touch, is deceptively quick - especially with the ball at his feet - and finishes well with both feet. "

Carmichael stood out in the finals, scoring plenty of goals, but it was his ability to bring other players into the game and create opportunities that impressed the selectors. If there is one question mark, it is his physical presence. Carmichael is slightly built.

"People underestimate how strong everyone is in the professional game," says Hay. "With every passing year, it is more and more a game for athletes and he will need to work on his strength and conditioning."

Carmichael leaves for Spain on Thursday and is clear on his objectives: "I need to do the basics, keep the ball and play my natural game," he says.

"I have to take my chances and perform. I think I have a good chance. I made the final 100, now I have to make the cut again. It's all about the trial days; you have to perform on those days."

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf01 at 27 Dec 2014 21:56:50 Processing Time: 545ms