Italian talent taught to play the Arsenal way
Whether it be in the biggest city or the tiniest hamlet, Italy is the home to the football school.
It is there that the tradition of ensuring children have the correct grounding in the national sport, as well as getting them out of the house in the afternoon, is carried on - rather than within the institutional education system where there are no after-school activities.
For what are privately-run schools, especially in around major cities such as Rome and Milan, it is a constant battle to retain the best young talent who are inevitably drawn to the glamour of the big clubs.
And maybe for their parents the reflected glory of seeing little Giuseppe kitted out in an AC Milan or AS Roma kit.
Villaguardia is small municipality just outside Como, and they have come up with a novel approach of reversing the trend of local players trotting off to a professional club school throughout the Lombardy region Ã¢ÂÂ they have joined up with Arsenal.
Yes, the North London club have opened their very own 'Arsenal Soccer School in George Clooney country where Arsene Wenger may some day unearth a new Theo Walcott or Aaron Ramsey'.
Ã¢ÂÂPlay the Arsenal wayÃ¢ÂÂ is the name of the project, and the locals are more than content to welcome a foreign club into their own back yard.
The Gunners are well respected in Italy among football aficionados: willing as they are to blood young players; something that Serie A clubs have failed miserably to promote.
No doubt it is an astute piece of marketing behind the venture, with little eight-year-olds upwards decked out in the famous red and white kit.
Another school will apparently be operational in Juventus territory from March, but for now Villaguardia is the centre of the early English invasion.
The president of football development in the area, Mario Turconi, came upon the Arsenal Soccer Schools when surfing the net to find ways to raise the profile of Villaguardia.
Twenty local coaches have been trained by Arsenal and teams from eight to 15-years-old have travelled to England to take part in tournaments against other schools within the scheme.
Of course, there is no such thing as a free lunch and the would-be coaches have to pay tuition fees to participate in the courses, as do the parents for their childrenÃ¢ÂÂs privilege to attend sessions.
Then, it goes without saying that if a little star in the making is unearthed the Gunners will have first refusal.
However, it is not difficult for the Italians to embrace the Arsenal methods as Turconi pointed out.
Ã¢ÂÂThe sessions are very intense but also very creative,Ã¢ÂÂ he said. Ã¢ÂÂThe kids always have the ball at their feet.Ã¢ÂÂ
It may only be a small inroad into local grassroots football, but Italian clubs will no doubt be monitoring ArsenalÃ¢ÂÂs plans for further expansion.
After all, they wonÃ¢ÂÂt want too many youngsters reaching for the stars at the Emirates rather than the San Siro and Stadio Olimpico.
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