Aberdeen’s head of youth academy coaching Gavin Levey says it was “really special” to see one of the club’s kids play five-a-sides with Dutch legend Robin van Persie.
The Dons’ 2010s side were invited to the Van Persie International Tournament at one of Feyernoord’s training bases near Rotterdam, along with some of Europe’s top clubs.
Levey says it was the first chance the club had to see the fruits of pre-academy coach Liam McGarry’s work to prepare the Under-9s for the Reds’ youth academy proper – and it was a “massive” success.
Aberdeen’s kids also lifted the “Europa League” prize at the biannual tournament, beating Werder Bremen, Slavia Prague, Nordsjaelland, Genk and Excelsior.
Levey said: “We travelled Friday and trained, then the tournament itself was Saturday and Sunday.
“You go in two groups of six on day one. We had Genk, Anderlecht, Man City, Excelsior and PSV Eindhoven.
“It was the first time these youngsters had ever been away with the club, apart from to play Dundee United and Rangers.
“But Liam McGarry, our pre-academy coach, has been tasked with coaching these players to the level suitable for a tournament like this and we competed really well.
“They split it into the Champions League and Europa League for day two, depending where you finish on day one, and we ended up just missing out (on the Champions League).”
Coach Levey added: “We ended up winning the Europa League, which was great.
“In terms of how we are, we are probably the smallest name on paper at that tournament.
“The people who invited us were probably looking closely to see how little Aberdeen do. I would imagine in two years we’ll be a solid invite.”
Levey says Aberdeen’s invitation came after the club’s performances over the last four years at the MVC Top D tournament near Venlo, also in Holland.
The weekend at Van Persie’s event was capped when JJ Hulse was selected to play against the man himself, scorer of 144 goals in 280 English Premier League appearances for Arsenal and Manchester United, as well as his son Shaqueel and freestyler Soufiane Touzani.
Levey said: “There were a couple of thousand people crowded round this five-a-side pitch to watch. Between Van Persie, his boy and Touzani, it’s a real exhibition. Kids love the skills and tricks.”
Over the course of the trip, there were regular meetings with Van Persie, as well as fellow Dutch international Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
Levey said: “He (Van Persie) was out watching games, getting photos with kids and taking penalties with them.
“Huntelaar was going about his business and there were a few former players there.
“But Van Persie was there the whole two days and to be on the stage with him, jumping about and lifting a trophy, was absolutely incredible for players, staff and parents.”