It’s the lifeblood of the streets in Europe. Countless kids with a soccer ball playing the beautiful game.
Sometimes, players can get overlooked. To combat this in America, legend of the game Luis Figo is bringing a new event to Lakewood Ranch.
The goal is to give players the chance to shine when a big European club might not have noticed them.
“To give them the visibility that so many top players in the world start to play in the streets and in the neighborhoods, so sometimes the talent is hiding,” said Figo, a former European Footballer of the Year and FIFA World Player of the Year.
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On Nov. 11-13, the European Showcase by Figo is coming to the Lakewood Ranch Premier Sports Campus for boys and girls ages 8-18.
On Thursday, Figo and other tournament officials gathered for a press conference at The Lake Club to announce the new venture. Figo, who played professionally for big clubs like FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter Milan and internationally for Portugal, said his business partners were already set up in Florida. That made awareness of the Premier Sports Campus and the number of players in the Sunshine State the perfect combination for the inaugural event.
The plan is to have annual tournaments around Veterans Day weekend, with this year’s inaugural events in Lakewood Ranch and also somewhere in Georgia. In 2017, Figo’s plan is to expand into New Jersey with the other venues returning to host.
The International Visibility Program, or IVP, is the name for Figo’s brainchild. IVP’s Renatto Soriano said the groundwork started a year ago. Soriano is also involved at the club soccer level in Florida, and said he knew about the amount of players and teams. So he went to all 192 clubs to scout players. Through the U.S. Soccer Federation, just eight Florida teams will compete in November. A total of about 200 teams are expected to play, Soriano said.
“We plan on adding more tournaments on the East Coast,” Soriano said.
Soriano said it’s a five-step process for what the IVP wants to accomplish. The first stage is tournaments, which begin with Figo’s European Showcase later this year. Next is a high performance technical center followed by a global allianc, soccer events that incorporate a scouting structure, and using television and radio as a final step.
Figo, who signed autographs and took photos following the press conference, agreed that it’s a step-by-step process. Despite retiring from international duties with Portugal following the 2006 World Cup and from the club game after the 2008-09 season, Figo is still a popular figure in the game.
Reigning Bradenton Herald boys soccer player of the year Antonio Colacci, who is heading to the University of New Hampshire in the fall after a standout career at Saint Stephen’s, said he was too young to watch Figo play live. So Colacci, whose favorite club is Barcelona, looked up YouTube videos before attending Thursday’s event and realized just how amazing Figo was during his career.
“I love the style of how he played on the wings,” said Colacci, sporting his Barcelona jersey. “I play with him on FIFA (video game) nowadays and it’s crazy to meet him.”
The chance to get noticed from the upcoming showcase tournament is something Colacci said he’s excited to see for the younger players.
“I never had that opportunity when I was younger to get noticed by a European club,” Colacci said. “So this is a great thing that he’s doing in helping out with the kids in our community.”
The announcement continues a whirlwind summer for Figo, who was in France earlier this month to witness his native Portugal capture an elusive major tournament title at the UEFA Euros. Watching Portugal’s run through the tournament, which was saddled with a third-place finish in the group stages, made him more nervous than when he was playing, Figo told the Bradenton Herald. He also expressed the importance of the victory compared to the defensive style that was used to grind out results.
“I think what’s important is the final result, because in 10 to 15 years nobody will remember how you win the Euros,” Figo told the Herald. “All you’re going to remember is the champion.”
And come November, youth players will get their chance to start the road to becoming a champion.