Nolan Sheldon: “Inter’s academy, the benchmark”

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MILAN – D.C. United academy director Nolan Sheldon has spent the last few days in Milan observing the work of the Inter youth teams. He spoke to Inter Channel about his experience.

What’s the most important thing you’ve taken away from watching Inter’s academy train?
“I think it was really important for us to see the inner workings of Inter’s academy. We had an opportunity to stay with a team throughout most of their pre-season, so being able to see and meet the coaches and see the teams in action was very valuable for us. We had an opportunity to meet with the director, Roberto Samaden, and also spend time with the U-15 coach Stefano Bellinzaghi and that interaction was invaluable for us.”

In the past, football in the United States was not considered a professional sport. What’s changing?
“Yeah, I think that’s changing a lot. The country and the soccer community within it recognise that we have the ‘athlete’ and we’re becoming a bit more cultured in the game. As you know, it takes time. It’s really important to have generation after generation playing the game. We, as a country, are really starting to develop a soccer culture and due to that you see that the infrastructure and the resources that are being put into youth development – specifically within MLS – is significantly more than what you would have found 10 years ago. We have more registered soccer players in the United States than any other country in the world, so they are there. What we always talk about at DC United is that we’ve got to work really hard to serve those players and give them an opportunity.”

What’s the most important thing you teach the guys?
“We focus on a lot of different areas. We want to make sure that they have a very good technical base at the right age. Depending on the player’s maturity, we want to introduce the tactical elements of the game. We really work hard to develop the character of the player to make that they understand that teamwork and work ethic are really important. Those are characterstics that, as Americans, are engrained in our culture and we want to make sure our style of play is representative of that.”

What’s the main difference between Italy and the US in terms of coaching?
“The coaches here have years and years of experience at the top level. We’ve existed as an MLS academy for less than 10 years. So I think the biggest difference would be the coach’s experience. Secondly, there’s a different style in terms of the organisation of the session and what they try to bring to the players. I think it’s very similar to what we’re trying to do. They have more experience, they have a bit more insight and that’s where we’re trying to improve our level of coaching to in turn improve the level of our players. That’s the reason we’re here.”