Quick test for Barca kids

For the past two months, they have trained tirelessly under the watchful eyes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Gerard Pique and Neymar.

However, the Barcelona stars - household names in the football world - offered no words of encouragement or praise.

But for the 80-odd children under the FCBEscola Singapore programme, the massive banner with the club's superstars imprinted on it and overlooking the St Patrick's School field, is all they need to be reminded of their sporting aspirations.

And come April, as many as 30 of them could be impressing on the same ground where so many of their heroes once played.

Whether it is dribbling like Messi or sliding a pass like Xavi, they will have the chance to catch the eye in the FCBEscola International Tournament at the Miniestadi - just a stone's throw away from the Camp Nou.

"It will give our players exposure so that they can see where they stand in terms of playing ability," said Steven Chua, director of the Singapore branch of Barcelona's famed football school.

April's seven-a-side tournament - the third of its kind - will pit players aged 6-14 from Catalonia and the club's 12 international outposts against each other across four age groups.

Local co-ordinators plan to enter as many as three teams, each comprising 12 players, to mark South-east Asia's debut in the four-day event.

Watched by more than 2,000 spectators, scouts and media last year, the tournament serves as a platform for promising youngsters to put themselves on the map. It will also allow FCBEscola Singapore technical director Carles Martin to see how far his charges have come since the school's launch in September.

"To be honest, a few months before I arrived, I was not sure if the people here would buy into our culture and ideas," the Catalan native admitted. "But I've been very surprised by the attitude of the players. They are passionate and want to improve."

That said, the FCBEscola coach of 14 years, who gets daily lesson plans from Barca's famed La Masia academy, warned that success will not come overnight.

He said: "A lot of other academies think that arriving at that point is the most important thing but our focus is on how we get there.

"We believe in creating intelligent players."

And the difference is noticable, according to Jonathan Chng, whose nine-year-old son Zac was registered at another football school before enrolling in the FCBEscola Singapore programme.

"We were watching a match on television recently and, at one point, Zac pointed out that a certain player should have made a different run," he said.

"It shows that he actually understands the concept of what he's doing."

But one stumbling block still remains.

"Parents here want their kids to be good but think attending one session a week is enough," said Chua, whose school runs two weekly sessions, in addition to fortnightly internal games at a cost of S$399 a month.

"The passion for football is there but it isn't a priority. And that's the challenge - to change the mindset of parents, so that they really understand what a football school is all about."

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