KOLKATA: When Angel Gomes scored the winner for Manchester United in the UEFA Youth League against CSKA Moscow, 300 people cheered. From a similar position on the pitch, Gomes scored an exquisite free-kick against Chile on October 8. This time, 46,154 fans roared their approval. This is one of the major takeaways for teams from the U-17 World Cup.
All football managers keep saying that pressure can make or break a player and footballers who thrive when the going gets tough, make it to the next level. Playing in front of big crowds is an acid test for the U-17 stars currently in the country.
“There is obviously a difference in scoring in a reserve-level game and in the World Cup. We never expected such a response from the people here. The atmosphere inside the stadium feels like we are actually playing in the senior World Cup,” England star Gomes said.
The highest attendance at the last edition of the U-17 competition held in Chile, where the most popular sport is football, was 21,893. That match featured the hosts against Nigeria. The highest attendance for a neutral game was 21,618, for the semifinal between Mexico and Nigeria.
“You can replicate weather patterns as well as tactical systems, but you cannot substitute the live feeling inside a ground. We never thought so many would come to see junior teams apart from the host nation,” England coach Steve Cooper said, ahead of his team’s final group game against Iraq.
With most of the young stars currently strutting their stuff set to return to reserve-level or academy-level football, this World Cup can go a long way in converting young boys into confident men.
“Playing in age-group football for a long time can stall the progress of a good young player. I have been to UEFA as well as FIFA development tournaments. Close to 50,000 crowd is unheard of in such events. This is a fantastic opportunity for young players to experience what a top-flight game feels like.
“If these boys break through to the first team in the Premier League, they will be playing in front of capacity crowds every week, which is at least 25,000. The bigger clubs are expanding and you're looking at 60-70,000. So to get an experience like this will go a long way,” Cooper added.
While a supportive crowd can drag a team on, a hostile environment can create doubts in young minds. Most of these players never experience such a gamut of emotions. Mexico coach Mario Arteaga had mentioned that his team could mount a comeback against England only because a mass of 40,620 egged his team on.
“It was scary playing against Mexico the other day. People started chanting Mexico’s name, and you could feel the momentum shifting. These young players have never played in such a pressure-cooker atmosphere. The players will go back better equipped to deal with difficult circumstances,” the former Liverpool youth coach added.