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  • Writer's pictureChristian Marchetti

IberCup ANZ: The group exposing Australian talent to a prestigious international pathway

In November 2022, Jonas Rodrigues and business partner Luccas Pereira created IberCup ANZ, the Oceania arm of IberCup, one of the most esteemed international youth football tournaments. Managing Director Rodrigues and General Manager Phillip Savannah recently visited Adelaide. They spoke to Front Page Football about the IberCup and how it can help develop Australia’s next generation of footballers.

An Australian Select team prepare for their IberCup tournament in Andalucía, Spain. (Instagram: @photosbyluccas)


Each edition of the IberCup sees some of the biggest and best talents, clubs, and academies worldwide face off in a fiercely competitive and professional environment. It was established in 2010 and, as Rodrigues explained, is primarily hosted in the Iberian Peninsula.


“It started in Europe, Portugal, Spain, and then it started spreading around Europe, and then they have a base now in Brazil as well. So, the competition is run in Portugal and Spain in the European tour. Then we have Brazil as well, from Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro,” he told FPF.


But how did Rodrigues and Pereira come across IberCup, and how was the Australia/New Zealand (ANZ) arm established? The duo also coach - currently within APIA Leichhardt's Women's set up - and during their time working more prominently on the coaching side, they felt there needed to be more competitive football available to their players, particularly in the Asia and Oceania region.


It led them to discover IberCup, and both were impressed with what they witnessed at their first tournaments.


“With there being trivial competitions around Australia and around Asia, they are all okay, but we felt it (the region) was missing something. Then we started looking…where else can we go? So we found IberCup; Luccas actually started [participating in it] back in 2018. He took his team that he coached from Fraser Park, and everybody loved it, Luccas loved it, Rodrigues said.


“Then he started having a relationship with the IberCup CEO, Filipe Rodrigues. I met Luccas back in 2019 after he had done the first IberCup. He goes, ‘Look, Jonas, we are from Brazil; we’re really excited about football. I found a competition that is really good; we need to go there; I want to go there again because it ticks all the boxes for us.’


“When I went there, I saw what he was talking about. I was like, ‘Well, this is really good; I’ve never been to a competition like this before.”


The global aspect of the tournaments certainly impressed Rodrigues. Clubs from France, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Africa, and many other countries and continents compete in the IberCup. He also highlighted the networking benefits of such a tournament, particularly from a coaching perspective.


“We have clubs competing from the whole world. It felt like I was in a World Cup for youth,” Rodrigues said.


“I loved the organisation; it’s a really well-organised competition. The fact we are in Europe, we can use a little holiday there in Europe as well. I was able to see new places and meet new people, [and] create a network of coaches like myself to exchange ideas of things.”


Inevitably, Rodrigues and Pereira turned to how they would spread the word or increase their involvement in the IberCup so more players and coaches from Australia and New Zealand could attend.


“The kids loved it; parents loved it. So we had a meeting with Filipe again, and that’s when he told us why we need somebody in Australia to promote IberCup because this experience we had, we want more people to have as well,” Rodrigues added.


After a few more meetings and conversations, Rodrigues, Pereira, and Filipe Rodrigues decided to go into business together. In November 2022, the IberCup CEO came to Australia to meet with the duo and a few clubs before finalising the partnership. IberCup ANZ was then created as a registered company.


It grew through the work of Rodrigues, Pereira, and Filipe Rodrigues before Savannah came on board not long after they started. IberCup ANZ has sent teams to two IberCups previously, earlier this year. Currently, two squads are overseas participating in a tournament in Andalucía, Spain, before heading to Estoril in Portugal for a second tournament on July 4.


“We’ve done April (this year), which is the elite competition, all the big clubs go, Man City, Liverpool, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, Benfica, Sporting. I just came back from there in April. We took a U11 and U12 squad from the Select program (for Australia),” Rodrigues said.


As mentioned, IberCup ANZ has a Select program where players from across Australia are chosen for a Select squad participating at the IberCup. Another way Australian-based players can play at the IberCup is by representing their club should they send a team or be involved. Rodrigues explained the Select program in more detail.


“They (the players) are scouted and selected, we have a process for it, and the players need to be [at] a level to go. So we have a network of scouts and ambassadors around the country that verify to make sure the kid has the certain level to go to the competition,” he said.


“We’ve been doing that since January; it’s pretty new. So we wanted to have a better presence here in Adelaide. That’s why Phil and I came; we’ve been meeting with some clubs and football people. We’re establishing a collaboration network [to] advertise IberCup and facilitate things.”

The different ways players and coaches can experience the IberCup. (Instagram: @ibercupaustralia)


The group continues to connect with like-minded football people across Australia to ensure there is an opportunity for Australia’s most talented junior players to compete in a competition that will challenge them.


Savannah echoed this sentiment by explaining how the IberCup allows Australian kids to experience an environment that is more professional than what they are used to.


“I think the overall theme of what we’re trying to achieve with IberCup, especially in Australia/New Zealand, is really to have a pathway for these kids,” he said.


“If you’ve played football yourself, you’ll understand that these opportunities are hard to come by, and real competition is hard to come by, especially overseas.


“So that’s what our sort of vision is, how can we get as many talented youth players from Australia and New Zealand over to Europe, play on the biggest stage, [and] get a taste of what it’s like to play a little bit of professional football in that environment. That’s what we’re really trying to establish as well.”


There are four windows throughout the year where players and coaches from Australia can experience the IberCup.


The Elite tournament happens during Easter when all the prestigious clubs participate, and it’s guaranteed a team from Australia will be placed in a group alongside some big names.


In June/July, there is a holiday cup, which occurs during the European summer. These tournaments are always in slightly different locations in Spain or Portugal and sometimes feature a few bigger clubs.


But to fulfil the Australian/New Zealand need, IberCup has also created the development tour. This brand new competition occurs in September. Rodrigues said it is usually a challenge for Australian clubs to send teams or players during the other windows because of the junior football calendar in Australia.


“Some teams that are during [the] season, they cannot go because they cannot align the holidays, so it’s a bit harder. Some teams can organise ahead and can still make those windows. But then we realised that a lot of clubs from Australia, they like travelling [at the] end of September, beginning of October,” Rodrigues said.


“So we created this development tour [where] we have a weekend tournament, which is not as big as the other three tours. We have one [at] Christmas as well.”

The upcoming IberCup windows available to Australian players. (Instagram: @ibercupaustralia)


Rodrigues expanded on how the development tour will still provide the players with the competitive football they need to develop.


“Myself and Luccas, growing up [and] playing football in Brazil, we understand that [the] competition factor is really important for the development of the player. If you just play friendlies, it’s not the same thing. If you’re competing, you’re really testing the player there (at IberCup). Then he can develop there during the competition,” he said.


“So we have the competition factor, which is a weekend tournament. But with that said, for [the] development tour, we do have friendlies as well that we can set with clubs depending [on the] level [of] the team that is going.


“If the team is really good, we’re going to set up friendlies with Porto, Benfica, Sporting Lisbon. But if the team is not as good and we verify the level before they go, we might set a friendly with a team they can play against on their level.”


The competitive aspect of playing overseas in a new environment also benefits Australian coaches who decide to go to the IberCup through friendlies or the tournament itself. IberCup will also implement a development aspect for coaches on the tours later this year.


“When we close the teams, we give opportunities for the coaches [to] go a week before, and we created a program for the coach to develop them on skills as well, where they’re going to be participating in a workshop,” Rodrigues said.


The coaching workshop will be run by Luís Dias, who has been developing young talent at Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon for the past 20 years, whilst he coached none other than Cristiano Ronaldo when the global star played for Sporting’s U14 side. A few other stars playing for Portugal have passed through Dias’ guidance.

Dias has helped develop some of Portugal's best talent over the past 20 years. (Luís Dias LinkedIn)


Dias also manages the UEFA coaching licenses for Portugal and is credited for the Portuguese Football Federation. Rodrigues explained the specific elements coaches would learn from him during the workshop held on the development tour.


“There is this chapter that teaches the coaches how to get the license on the UEFA Pro in Portugal. So we thought this is a really good opportunity for the coaches [to] have a piece of this knowledge as well because if you want to do a UEFA license today, there is nothing that stops the coaches to go. But it’s a three-month period; not a lot of people can go and stay three months in Europe to take a coaching license,” Rodrigues said.


“Let’s be fair; in Australia, the coaches are not very well paid; it’s kind of like side jobs. So what we want for the coaches [is] for them to develop. Luís Dias will show them some drills, talk about football development, tactics, analyse a professional match, and things like that.


“Also, that coach can create a network with other coaches to exchange plans, ideas, [and] how they work in their clubs.”


The development tour in September seems the most beneficial for Australian players and coaches. But should that not suit respective individuals, IberCup also holds another tournament just before Christmas. Players can also try for a Select team for this window.


The number of teams at each tournament varies depending on the year and the window in which the competition is being held. The Easter window is undoubtedly the biggest, though.


“During Easter is the time that most teams go because all the big clubs are, so we have, I don’t remember off the top of my head, but around 200 to 400 teams participating,” Rodrigues said.


The number of teams results from IberCup holding tournaments from U9s to U18s for boys and competitions for some age groups on the girls’ side.


But it is more about the global representation at tournaments, instead of the sheer numbers, that sets IberCup apart from other international youth football tournaments. There’s a cultural and worldly aspect to participating in the IberCup.


“Last April, we played Juventus, Man City, Benfica, Porto, Sporting,” Rodrigues said.


“In the meal centre, all the players go to have their meals during tournaments, [and] you can see teams from all around the world. I met people from Lyon, from France, there [was] also [a] Select from Brazil. There is a team from Africa, from Japan.


“There was a Select from America actually, [an] academy from Los Angeles, they put a Select together, so yeah, there’s pretty much [teams] from everywhere.”

The results achieved by the two Australian Select teams who participated in the Elite IberCup in April. (Instagram: @ibercupaustralia)


Although cultural and social experiences are a benefit, football is most important, particularly the exposure of Australian talent. Not to mention how the tournaments push young players with challenges they would have otherwise not faced in Australia.


“We have a couple of success cases already that we didn’t expect to have in the early stages. The main benefit for the kids is they get exposure; they get exposed to a different environment, they get out of their comfort zone,” Rodrigues said.


“We believe the player will grow when they are out of their comfort zone. If they keep playing in their bubble, they’re very secure; they’re not going to grow.


“Second thing is they experience a different level of football, so they can kind of [go], ‘Okay, I know where I’m at now playing against the best players [out of] the best kids my age.”


Aspiring professional footballers can use a tournament to measure their ability and how they compare to other talent worldwide. Whether they come away from it positively, believing even more so in their talent, or negatively, feeling they need to improve, each player should come to a better understanding of the journey they are on.


For those who impress, global tournaments like the IberCup naturally attract scouts looking for the next diamond in the rough and offering further opportunities.


“There’s a lot of scouts there, so they’re always watching for different players, [a] different profile of players, and it’s not uncommon that they come to us,” Rodrigues said.


“Last April, we had a kid from Melbourne, he was above the other ones, he (a scout) goes, ‘Hey, we really like him.’ They want to monitor them; it really depends [on] the age because there’s FIFA laws that prevent young players [to] go and play in Europe unless they have a passport or something, European passport.


“Last year, we had a player from Melbourne, who actually plays [in] Melbourne City’s academy, Luís Dias really liked him and offered a scholarship for him to go back there (to another IberCup). So he played in April with a scholarship; he didn’t have to pay again to go because he was one of [a] kind; they (scouts) liked him.”


There’s not just external interest in the talent at each IberCup tournament, though. IberCup themselves have the IberAcademy Play in Europe program, where talented players between 13 and 19 years old can play or train in Europe for an extended period to receive more focused exposure to major European clubs.


“They will have a chance to go into that Play in Europe program where we’re going to support the player to go there (Europe) and play or train for perhaps a season or three months or a month, so they can get to that foundation there with those contacts and [make] that network more solid with European sides,” Rodrigues said.


Although it is a significant step forward for most players in potentially becoming a professional, Rodrigues is always quick to temper expectations.


“You don’t like setting wrong expectations for the parents as well, as some parents think the kid that is 11, 12 can go there and will be picked up by a big club. No, that’s not [the] reality,” he said.


“So you need to be around 15, 16, and then, just then, the clubs will start getting serious about ‘Okay, you can sign a contract to a big club or not.”


It’s also important to temper expectations when only so much talent can make it professionally from a select group of players. But especially with the IberCup experience the way it is, the hope is players still enjoy being treated like professionals, even if only for a few days.


“They’re going to have that experience where they’re going to feel like a pro there because once they get there, they have a private bus taken from the airport to the accommodation, then a private bus taking the team to training grounds and the matchday,” Rodrigues said.


“They really have a routine of a professional player while they are there. So they all get to experience that, even for the ones that won’t make it, at least they can have a little taste [of] what [it] is to be a professional football player.”


Savannah also highlighted the importance of experiencing an IberCup, even reflecting on how his futsal endeavours at a younger age helped shape the career he forged for himself.


“Aside from the football side of things, they’ll gain a lot of personal experience as well,” he said.


“If I use myself as an example, I didn’t get to do anything like this, but I was able to represent my state playing futsal when I was a bit younger, and the understanding that it took to make that team and then what it took to actually play in a competition that was highly competitive has sort of guided me to do well in my career, I believe.


“Not all the kids are going to make it in professional football. Ideally, yes (they all make it), but there’s life skills that they’ll learn out of all of this; they can take that into their adulthood.


“Kids are like sponges…so they’re going to get a lot of information and a lot of mindset and mentality when they’re doing these types of competitions.”


The IberCup is therefore appealing because of its long-lasting benefits in a football and personal sense. The process of making a Select team may be considered arduous, but it’s crucial for a variety of reasons.


Should an individual want to trial even though their club is not sending a team or they are unattached, they must first apply through an online expression of interest or via the IberCup ANZ Instagram page.


After entering the relevant details, players and their parents will be called so Rodrigues and Pereira can understand more about what they wish to get out of the tournament and why they want to go, the level they’re at, and whether the family can afford it because there is a cost with playing in the IberCup.


Then comes the next stage, mainly overseen by Pereira.


“We have the football part, our Technical Director Luccas (Pereira); he will call the player’s parents to talk about their level. Luccas has been working in football in Australia for the past 12 years, so he knows a lot of people, clubs, [and] academies. So he’s able to know the level of the player,” Rodrigues said.


“Once he doesn’t really know the player, [as] we said, we have a network of scouts throughout the country. So Luccas might say, ‘Hey, are you playing this weekend, or are you training this week? If so, you’re going to see the scout there to see the kid play.


“Then this scout or our ambassador scout will do a report based on our five principles of the game. Then he (Luccas) will assess.”


Rodrigues expanded more on IberCup’s five principles, which form the basis of how they evaluate each player.


“When you do the ID clinics, at the end, we give them a report based on our five pillars which are technical, tactical, physical, mental, and cognitive. So they will know exactly, with very professional and honest feedback, where they have to improve, and then they can work on that, and then maybe try again next year,” he said.


The IberCup ANZ team are aligned in how they approach the Australian market. Other clubs and organisations are responding to them and buying into the benefits of IberCup.


Rodrigues told FPF that A-League Men champions Central Coast Mariners expressed strong interest in sending their U15s team to a tournament in April when former Socceroo Luke Wilkshire was at the club. But negotiations broke down after Wilkshire returned to the national set-up as a part of the Young Socceroos coaching staff.


Elsewhere, clubs from Melbourne have already signed up to send teams for the Christmas window, whilst they are working on interest being expressed from clubs in Perth, Brisbane, Sydney, and Adelaide. Rodrigues and Savannah revealed they were impressed with two clubs from South Australia during their recent visit and have already moved forward with negotiations.


But it’s not just clubs looking to connect with IberCup ANZ. Capital Football announced a new partnership between IberCup ANZ and their well-known, nationwide Kanga Cup competition in April. It is a mutually beneficial partnership that will see IberCup ANZ and Capital Football collaborate on ways IberCup and the Kanga Cup can benefit. At the 2023 Kanga Cup, IberCup will be the competition’s designated Hub Presenter. Rodrigues said IberCup ANZ wants to help bring international teams to Australia to play in the Kanga Cup.


Finally, IberCup ANZ is also looking to connect with football people interested in becoming IberCup Ambassadors for their state. Three-time A-League champion with Brisbane Roar, Henrique, is the IberCup Ambassador in Queensland. Henrique is also the Sporting Director of Coomera Colts FC on the Gold Coast. He has taken a few players from the club to the IberCup tournaments in Spain and Portugal occurring at the moment.

 

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Henrique was announced as the IberCup Ambassador in Queensland in January. (Instagram: @ibercupaustralia)


IberCup ANZ is also in talks with a few people from Adelaide to become Ambassadors, who they’re expected to announce very soon.


The group is only in its infancy, but clearly, they are making their presence felt across Australia. IberCup ANZ already has a direct route to one of the best tournaments for exposure and high-level competitive football for young players worldwide.


Hopefully, with more Australian Select teams being sent abroad and more clubs across the country looking to pursue this avenue, the next wave of promising talent grasp the benefits of such an opportunity.


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