Famous for its soccer youth academy system, Sporting CP has developed Portugal’s best players, past and present.
One of the most renowned schools of its kind in the world, players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Figo and Nani were products of its academy in Lisbon.
In April 2010, the first development system of Sporting CP outside national territory was opened in Toronto, and remains the only one to date.
“It is a reputation of great responsibility, but also that makes us very proud,” says Pedro Dias, the youth technical director. “What makes the difference besides our philosophy is the people. The way these very experienced people deal with the young athletes is a key to our success.”
The Sporting Club of Toronto was founded in 1981 by a group of affiliates living in the city, and the Sporting FC academy is certified by Sporting CP in Portugal as its Canadian youth soccer academy.
According to Dias, a former professional soccer player in Portugal, it is important that youth understand the notion that not all, or very few, will be professional soccer players and only very exceptional cases may dream of being the next Cristiano Ronaldo.
“Our focus is to develop Canadian youth by teaching for life through soccer,” he says. “Our belief is that to become a great player you must also grow as a person.”
Using that philosophy, Sporting develops youth players that have been scouted and go on to train in Europe.
However, at this age, it is very difficult to make any predictions about who will become a professional player. Things can change faster than usual because of the physical characteristics of youngsters.
Toronto player 1st to live in Portugal
Lucas Dias, 11, recently became the first player developed in Toronto to get a chance of living in Portugal, training with the Sporting main academy.
“He started at four years old with a thirst and desire to play soccer,“ says his father, Paul Dias. “My dream as he was getting older was to find him a home where people would believe in him and give him the opportunity to achieve his dream in becoming a professional soccer player.”
In Alcochete, Lisbon, the academy has a hotel with 46 rooms, half on the youth side for players aged 14 or older who might live there.
Despite Dias’ success, the youth director in Toronto emphasizes the importance of being cautious in setting goals and not creating false expectations.
“There are a number of situations that are favourable as that was the case, as his father had the availability in travelling with him,” says Pedro Dias. “His life will be totally different. I would consider that 14 or 15-year-old would be something closer to the ideal to make an important decision like that.”
Nevertheless, some of the kids enter the academy only for socializing. Especially during the winter, when outdoor activities become scarce in Toronto, it is a way for them to have fun and make new friends.
Portuguese largest community
The academy trains players from around the globe, but players from the Portuguese community are clearly the largest ethnic group.
Every year, the kids also travel to Portugal on a tour to watch a professional match. In 2014, they went to Sporting versus FC Porto at the Alvalade stadium.
“It was a great match, and a fantastic experience for these kids who have never seen a soccer game before in a stadium with 41,000 people,” says Dias.
Sporting FC academy plays at the 750-seat Brockton Stadium and participates in the Ontario Soccer League of all ages.