It is Sunday. A couple of football fields in Islington have over 100 players packed on to them, running through different drills and coaching sessions. It’s a grey day. A few people in coats are stood on the sidelines watching their son, friend or brother.
The heavens open. The spectators and officials all dash for cover, including a coat-less me, as puddles form instantly. The players remain. In the face of a torrential downpour, they carry on with their drills. Showing their determination. Determination to prove themselves. To get noticed. To win.
This is Nike’s Most Wanted.
Nike UK have held trials all over the UK and Ireland this summer. Their aim? To search for the fastest, toughest, sharpest players in the UK and Ireland. The winners go through to a special elite training camp to be coached by footballing legends Ian Rush and Sir Alex Ferguson. They will be treated like a pro, see the standard expected, attend an Arsenal match and then have their own specially-crafted Nike boots to suit their size and style of play.
The players in attendance are all very different. Some are there to get noticed. To display their talent for others to see. To make it. Others are there to prove to themselves that they still have what it takes. Some are there for something to do. To get off the streets. Most Wanted provides a stage for all. Over 100 players battle it out through several rain-soaked sessions to be one of the two who go through to the Elite Training Camp, but winning is not the be all and end all. Ben Loney, organiser of the event, mentioned:
Its about getting players noticed. Give them new opportunities. There are many kids here who were at academies but got dropped. We want to give them a new chance to get back in the game.
The trials already appear to be paying dividends. Trials in London, Liverpool, Dublin, Glasgow and Birmingham amongst other places have already helped players who had fallen through the net get back into the game:
There was a lad at the Liverpool trials. He was at their academy but got dropped at 16. He drifted out of the game. He went out and got a job in a supermarket and watched as his mate made it.
He came to Most Wanted and was the standout player. A Wayne Rooney type, just playing in the hole. We got him into Southport [Conference North side] for 2 weeks. He’s doing great there and wants to get back into football. These trials provide opportunities like that.
The trials consist of four different coaching sessions and five drills. The drills incorporate tests on all that is required to be top-level footballer: speed, passing, shooting, control and mental agility. The Mercurial Vapor speed drill was tested on Premiership players Gabriel Agbonlahor, Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon before being rolled out to the Most Wanted trials.
All players are given a score for each drill and these are totalled up for all 100 participants. The coaching sessions help the coaches and scouts notice the standout players. The top 22 players then take part in a full-size match and the two outstanding players of the entire day are given their passes to the Elite Training session.
Tottenham and Manchester United legend Teddy Sheringham was in attendance to see how the players were getting on and to offer some tips. After trying the trials for himself, except the speed one of course, I managed to get his views on the trials overall aim:
Events like this are good for youngsters. It’s great for players who have slipped through the net, or those who are trying to make it for the first time.
It’s a great chance to make it, to get spotted in a different way.
Majid Kabiri, 24, was one of those who “slipped through the net” and he explained why he signed up for Nike’s Most Wanted trial:
I’m frustrated, you know? I wasn’t watched, picked up, as a youngster. And I played in the same team as Leroy Lita and to see him make it in the Premiership made me feel a bit bitter. I just wanted to test myself. To know I was good enough.
There are a lot of quality players out there. Some great talents. And talent is everywhere. Everywhere. Coaches are just not looking. They’re not going to the right places. Look at England now, no flair players. There are plenty here today. They just need to be seen.
And it is through events like this that England players of the future may get seen. If not, at least they get a stage to promote themselves on. And at least it gives kids ambition, opportunity and something to do other than play computer games and hang around on the streets.