A Fulham under 19 squad jetted off for an exciting journey to Dallas to take part in a physically, mentally and technically demanding seven day tournament only knowing that they’ll play at least three excellent teams in the group stages. Drawn against Hoffenheim (the U19 Bundesliga champions in 13/14 and runners up in 14/15), the United States’ U20 set up and Mexican side Monterrey; Fulham would battle to qualify from the group as winners with draws against the Germans and Mexicans and beating the best under 20s the United States had to offer. An early blitz of Hoffenheim in the opener showed Fulham’s class, fighting back from a goal down against the US displayed the groups’ heart and the draw against Monterrey presented Fulham’s cool heads under pressure of qualification being in their own hands.
Fulham then drew Brazilian’s Fluminense in the semi-final – who had beaten 2014-15 Under 18 Premier League Champions Middlesbrough in the group stages – and the side beaten by Fulham en route to the final in 2013 would prove another tough test for our young group. However, our boys would display more of their fight, hard work and skill in grinding out a 3-2 victory to make a pleasantly unexpected final against Everton. In representing the football club excellently throughout the week, a trophy come the end of it would be nothing but a bonus – we were proud of our lads in just making it that far of the tournament peaking with a starting eleven average age of 17.8 and just the one outfielder at the 19 year old age limit.
Though I’m sure the squad will not be happy with their final performance, I’m here to stress the learning curve of the entire journey. They’ve played quality teams from around the world, experienced different styles of football and had to deal with a demanding diary that isn’t given to you at under 21, nor under 18 level – each team experienced something more comparable to the Championship schedule. The majority of our squad has minutes for the under 21s this season, so playing up an age group isn’t new, but playing up an age group against foreign competition is a valuable experience for young lads who I’m sure will have aspirations of European and International competition in their careers.
All in all, the football club was represented excellently and we saw the hard work, discipline and fight we want to see in all Fulham sides. The season is not over, the under 18s host Liverpool at Motspur Park on Saturday in the continuation of the top tier final stages of the Under 18 Premier League and a number of these players will turn out for the under 21s next Monday night at Craven Cottage against Derby – which I’m sure will be an entertaining evening of football.
We’re proud of the achievements of the young guys in Dallas, and they should look back on their time with pride – not disappointment. Your careers will not be defined by a loss to Everton; in 2014, Moussa Dembele and Lasse Vigen Christensen (amongst others) were part of a Fulham team which didn’t get out of the group.
Keep your heads up and move forwards. Come on you whites!