TWO 17-year-olds from Penang will cherish the one-week training stint they underwent recently with English football club Queens Park Rangers (QPR) in London, England.
Apart from the cold weather and missing Malaysian food, Kengo Lee from George Town and Mohammad Alif Amzar Mohd Hisham from Seberang Perai enjoyed every moment of their attachment with QPR’s Academy – an experience many youngsters would envy and could only dream of achieving in their lifetime.
Not only did the boys get to train with QPR’s Academy team, they also got to meet the club’s first team players and watch them play at Loftus Road Stadium against Cardiff FC for the Championship League tie on March 4 where QPR came from behind to edge the Welsh club 2-1.
Lee and Amzar, together with six other teenagers, namely Ahludz Dzikri Fikri, Hamsa Medari Lestaluhu and Muhammad Alfiqri from Indonesia, as well as Parin Bunyalakha and Sathit Sisophakiri (Thailand) and Li Te (China), participated in a training stint at QPR Academy’s facility at Heston from Feb 26 to March 5, made possible by a joint collaboration between AirAsia and QPR.
The eight teenagers were selected out of 260 hopefuls late last year during the annual AirAsia-QPR Coaching Clinic that aimed to provide a platform for local talents to hone their skills.
The clinic included training on ball manipulation techniques, passing and shooting, a nutrition workshop and other tactical aspects of football, to enhance their skills and competency on the pitch.
The boys were also given a full QPR training kit and winter attire, including AirAsia-QPR Coaching Clinic jerseys and duffel bags, QPR gloves, jacket, pants and training sweats as well as AirAsia caps.
They also had the opportunity to tour London, visiting the Big Ben and London Eye, among other interesting spots in the city.
A bonus for the lucky lads was the opportunity to tour the historic Wembley Stadium, the largest stadium in the UK which can seat 90,000.
During the tour, they got to see the changing rooms used by the England national team as well as other national teams and top football clubs such as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.
Lee, an International School of Penang student, said the football training at QPR’s Academy at Heston was hectic and comprehensive.
“The first thing I had to adapt to was training in the cold weather. The boys from the academy are fitter and faster than us and it was tough keeping pace with them.
“The training not only focuses on the physical aspect of the game but also tactical and psychological preparation before the matches,” said Lee, who is a big Arsenal fan.
“We were also advised to have a balanced diet and keep to a healthy lifestyle.
“The diet includes more protein such as fish, chicken and egg. We also consume more fruits and vegetables,” he added.
Mohammad Alif, a student of SMK Guar Perahu in Bukit Mertajam, said the change in diet was a major challenge for him.
“ I am so used to eating nasi kandar and curry but here, most of the food are boiled.
“It was tough in the beginning but after a couple of days, I got used to their diet.
“We have to record all the food and drinks we consume each day in a journal.
“Even what time we go to bed and wake up has to be written in the journal” said the Manchester United fan.
Mohammad Alif added that the coaches placed a lot of emphasis on what a player should do when they have the ball and when they lose the ball.
“I learnt how to improve my fitness and also picked up some dribbling skills,” said Mohammad Alif, whose favourite position is attacking midfield – similar to his favourite player Paul Pogba.
The boys thanked QPR and AirAsia for giving them the opportunity to train with the local boys at the QPR Academy at Heston, London.
QPR Trust chief executive officer Andy Evans said the coaches offered a wide range of training sessions, with the aim of developing each participant’s individual and team game.
“The young players got the opportunity to know the QPR culture and experience what it is like to be part of the QPR family.
“They got the chance to learn from our first-class coaching methods, experience the Loftus Road match day atmosphere and explore our fantastic city of London,” said Evans.
QPR Academy, Business and Operations head Alex Carroll said the boys adapted quickly to the training regime, which was held on alternate days.
“They were taught how to think quick when they have the ball and even when they do not have the ball.
“We focused on speed when going on the attack and when defending,” said Carroll.
QPR Lead Foundation Phase coach Lee Hayes said he was impressed as the Asian teenagers had integrated well with their British counterparts at Heston.
“They were determined to learn and that was a plus point.
“All of them have the basic skills, so we focused on improving their techniques and tactical play, said Hayes.
AirAsia executive chairman Datuk Kamarudin Meranun said: “As we enter our fourth year, I am greatly encouraged to see the difference this clinic has made in the lives of young footballers in Asia.
“Since the first clinic in 2013, we have succeeded in enriching the lives of over 1,000 football talents in this region, 29 of whom were also given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to train with QPR.
“This demonstrates AirAsia’s commitment to making everyone’s dream come true, and I could not be more thrilled that we are a part of this.”
AirAsia is an official sponsor of QPR. The AirAsia-QPR Coaching Clinic Tour, which started in 2013, aims to provide a platform for Asian youths to enhance their skills and competency on the pitch.
The writer’s trip to London was sponsored by AirAsia.