For many parents, the thought of going a day without seeing their child can be heartbreaking.
But for Edmund Reyes, the father of nine-year-old Filipino football phenom Sandro, the sacrifice of his son being away for months or even years to pursue a dream is worth it.
The younger Reyes has been accepted to FCB Escola, the football school run by top La Liga club FC Barcelona. It means that Sandro will spend the next three years in Spain.
“This chance may not come again,” said Edmund. “Dream talaga ng son ko na maglaro for FC Barcelona.”
Sandro became the first and only Filipino accepted into the prestigious football school after two rounds of tryouts. He impressed coaches in an initial run in Singapore before shining in the final tryout in Spain, wherein he posted four goals and five assists.
His feat comes just two years after football tapped the national consciousness of Filipinos, beginning with the surprise semifinal run of the Philippine national team in the ASEAN Football Federation Suzuki Cup two years ago. With the sport enjoying unprecedented popularity courtesy of the Azkals, the spotlight is now cast on young Sandro, who has the opportunity to become the country’s best football player.
No stranger to success
Despite his tender age, Sandro is no stranger to football glory. He has been playing since he was four years old, and has starred in many football camps and festivals locally. In 2009, at age six, he led the Southridge football team to the title in the Alaska Cup, posting 23 goals in seven games to win Most Valuable Player honors. He also became part of the Younghusband Football Academy in 2010 and the Loyola Meralco Sparks youth elite team last February.
Edmund is aware that for Sandro to maximize his gifts, the youngster has to get the best possible training at the earliest possible age.
“For parents, they see the earliest time they consider their child to study abroad is high school. That was our mindset, maybe Sandro is a talented soccer player, maybe he can play there in high school,” Edmund said.
“But we were rudely awakened that if we do so, that is too late. Because in high school, there are many habits that you cannot anymore correct and if you are seriously contemplating a life of a top-level professional player, the time for really giving him good training is from six to 11 years old.”
In international football, clubs often fund youth academies to train children as young as six, with scouts keeping tabs on them as they grow older. FCB Escola serves as a feeder for La Masia, Barcelona’s youth football academy. La Masia has some of the world’s best football players such as Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, all of whom competed for the FIFA’s Ballon d’Or, the sports top individual award, in 2010.
Playing through painEven though he’s just nine years old, Sandro is no stranger to the sacrifices required to be a top football player. During one of the preparations for his tryout, he injured his ankle, leaving him unable to train for two weeks. Despite the injury, he was still able to impress international coaches.
“That was a challenge to put Sandro there with practically one leg and he still made it,” Edmund said. “He played through the pain.”
Sandro’s coach, Belize national Neco Lambey, said his talent and fortitude is special.
“It’s very rare that you find a talent like Sandro,” said Lambey, who also coached in football schools in Thailand and Indonesia. “He’ll work double time to get what he wants.”
Come September, Sandro will fly to Spain to train in FCB Escola together with his mother. Apart from football prowess, education is still important for the academy as it requires students to submit grades every quarter. And if they are not doing well, their playing time would be in peril.
“Their philosophy is that football is a dangerous contact sport, and one injury can change your life,” Edmund said. “They’re preparing you also for the real life in a sense that, let’s get out of this dream world.”
Edmund is prepared for the fact that his son won’t be home until Christmas.
“Mas mabuti na lang kung bumalik siya in the holidays. Para matikman naman lahat ang kanyang presensya. It’s more meaningful,” he said.
While Sandro’s achievement has left him amazed, Edmund says the family is still trying to make sure that the football phenom’s feet remain firmly planted on the ground.
“We are very careful to tell him to stay grounded, keep on improving himself,” he said. “If you become mayabang, that might be start of the time you’ll start improving.”
Although Edmund is confident that Sandro will do well in Spain, he realizes that circumstances could easily derail the child’s dream; he could be injured, or he could simply get tired of playing.
But for Edmund, all that matters is Sandro’s happiness.
“If he tells me that he changes his mind anytime, I’ll say go ahead, as long as that is in your heart,” Edmund said. “No regrets. He’s had an incredible ride.”