Juventus Academy Wales.
Juventus Academy Wales in Leckwith.

Italian football giants Juventus mining Welsh talent for next John Charles or Aaron Ramsey

Juventus Academy Wales’s under 13s side finished runners-up at a tournament in Madeira last month

AN ITALIAN football giant’s global search for the next generation of superstars has brought them to Cardiff, a stone’s throw from the home of the Welsh national teams.

Until now, the most notable connections between the Turin club and Cardiff have been two of Wales’ best players. Midfield star Aaron Ramsey signed for La Vecchia Signora on a free transfer in 2019 but cost a pretty penny in wages. The club still honours Swansea-born John Charles, who scored 108 times between 1957 and 1962.

Now, though, Juventus hope to find the Welsh talents of the future in their formative years, via a year-round training camp in Leckwith.

Juventus Academy Wales is one of an international network of training centres on six continents, ranging from Silicon Valley to Sydney and Casablanca to Cardiff.

There are nine camps in the UK – five in Scotland, three in England and one in Wales.

They promise to teach players between the ages of six and 16 the ‘Juventus Way’ in technical, tactical and psychological areas of the beautiful game.

The Academy’s first foray into Wales was a training centre in Ebbw Vale, which opened in 2021 before the operation moved to Cardiff.

Juventus Academy locations accurate as of March 10, 2023.

The Leckwith centre attracts players from across south Wales and coach Jake Pascoe leads the weekly training sessions.

“When I was growing up, there was nothing like this,” he said. “You’d have your local clubs which you would get to train at maybe an hour a week and that may be the only thing on offer unless you were really up there and had the ability that the local clubs such as Cardiff, Swansea and Newport would take you on.”

He says the Academy’s coaching can improve players of all abilities and “really grow” the talent pool of young footballers in Wales.

Away from home

The Welsh under 13s side finished runners-up at the Ponta Do Sol Cup in Madeira. Image: Juventus Academy Wales.

The Academy’s Welsh under 13s finished runners-up in a tournament in Madeira, Portugal, last month.

Wanting to keep the bonds between its international academies strong, the club has invited its Welsh players to a training camp in Turin from April 16 to 20. They can return to Italy on June 11 for the annual Juventus Academy World Cup. In last year’s edition, teams from 22 countries took part.

Parent Mark Dennis, from Porthcawl, attended last summer’s tournament with his son, Alex, who plays as a goalkeeper.

Alex was about eight years old when he got into football – later than most of his friends. Three years later, he was representing Juventus at an international tournament in Turin.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a lot of kids, mixing with kids from all over the world. Nigeria to Brazil… Tunisia… it was amazing, to be fair. Confidence-wise for Alex, it was a massive boost.”

The Juventus Way

Image: Sam Portillo.

Coach Marcello Mortillaro says that the Academy’s “main focus” is using the same ideas and methodology that the first teams use in Turin.

The Juventus Way promises to teach the youngsters to “dictate proceedings, keep possession of the ball and stay calm”. There is also a focus on encouraging hard work and sacrifice as a team.

The Academy’s head goalkeeper coach Paulo Calefati also visited Cardiff last month.

“Our method helps footballers at any level, both in Italy and internationally, to hone their skills,” he told The Cardiffian.

Paulo acknowledges the training is different for professionals and children, who are still maturing as people and players.

“The goalkeepers on the first team do the same kind of work,” he said. “They work a lot on their technique and skills. With younger players, we work more on building confidence and awareness of what they’re doing.”

Juventus Academy head goalkeeper coach Paulo Calefati. Image: Sam Portillo.

The coaching has clearly made an impression on the players. We asked Matteo, 12, what he had learned about the Juventus Way. He said: “Always play from the back, don’t boot it long – unless there’s an overhead kick”.

With younger players, we work more on building confidence and awareness of what they’re doing.

Parent Mark Gammaidoni from Swansea agrees: “I’ve noticed the encouragement to be comfortable on the ball, not to stress, not to worry. To try something. If it doesn’t work, they’ll explain another way of doing it. And the kids grow in confidence because they’re not shouted at.”

He says the children are learning the “modern game”.

Milan, Paris, Bangor

Juventus is not the only top European club to plant its flag in Wales. Paris Saint-Germain has a centre in Caerphilly and Inter Milan, Juventus’ rivals, has one in Bangor.

Despite the undeniable opportunities for young players, there may be consequences for the future of the Welsh game. Foreign football institutions are no longer just interested in Welsh football, they are inside it.

Players can represent any national team so long as they acquire the corresponding nationality, FIFA rules state. This can be achieved with the birthplace of a player’s parents, grandparents or even great grandparents.

If a young player moves to another country, develops and becomes professional in another country, it can only be more likely they will choose to represent them.

Brazil-born midfielder Jorginho moved to Italy aged 15 and qualified for citizenship through his great grandfather. He has played for the Azzurri 46 times, starting every game in their victorious European Championships campaign.

The Spanish football federation tried the same trick with a 13-year-old boy from Rosario, Argentina, but he was only interested in representing his home country. He turned out to be the best player in the world.

Former Chelsea striker Diego Costa represented Spain at two FIFA World Cup finals despite having played for his native Brazil in friendly matches. He said: “It was very difficult to choose between the country where you were born and the country that has given you everything.”

Traditionally, Welsh football has relied somewhat on importing talent with English-born players like Brennan Johnson and Ethan Ampadu eligible to play for Wales through family connections.

The fact there are now multple clubs scouring Wales to export talent to other nations shows the progress of the game in Wales.

  • Juventus Academy Wales train every Monday at Cardiff International Sports Campus. Email: info@juventusacademywales.com