Cunupia FC will be campaigning in the Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) for its 2017 season but their main goal is to be the best football club in the country.
As part of their mission, Cunupia FC coach, Michael De Four, visited famed Brazilian club, Cruzeiro, on March where he inspected their infrastructure, interacted with their players and officials and signed a player exchange agreement during a three-week stay.
Cruzeiro Esporte Clube is one of Brazil’s biggest ever clubs, producing outstanding players such as 2002 World Cup winner Ronaldo, renowned goalkeeper Dida and hard-tackling ex-Chelsea midfielder Ramires. Several other legends have played for the Belo Horizonte-based club including 1970 World Cup champion Jairzinho, former Barcelona icon Rivaldo, 2001 UEFA Champions League winner Giovane Elber and many others.
Speaking to Newsday about his visit, DeFour, who coached Cunupia FC to their Championship title last year, declared: “This trip came about after winning the Central zone and winning the (National Super League) Championship (division). We at the club want to go to the next level.
We don’t want to look at a top T&T club and say ‘we want to be like that’. We wanted to see how a top international club operates and what better place to do that than Brazil?”
He continued: “When I see Ronaldo and Maicon came from there, I asked why not (visit)? Cruzeiro constantly produces good players and we wanted to see why.” One of the areas of interest to De Four and Cunupia FC was Cruzeiro’s approach to getting players to a superior fitness level.
“We at the club feel we play good and attractive football. Over the years, every national coach that is hired says we have to get fitter. Part of our drive is to see what is their (Cruzeiro) approach of conditioning an international level calibre player and I got a big insight into that,” he said.
While not willing to disclose what he learned, he indicated that moving forward, fitness “has to be a more scientific approach.
It can’t be just seeing a player running some laps.” Adding to the allure of the famous club was the culture of football that surrounds it.
“I think T&T could fit in Brazil 1700 times. I’ve been to places where men were just ‘sweating’ and they were on turf (grass).
I think T&T only has one turf facility.
There are turf pitches for children Under-10 as well to just take a sweat. Football plays here 12 months a year,” he said.
Comparing T&T to Brazil, he added: “Football here (in Trinidad) is mostly recreational and you might have a man trying to make it professional. But there, it is a job and children grow up wanting to be a footballer just like maybe a doctor or lawyer or policeman.” A key component of the visit was the fostering of a long term relationship with the Brazilian club.
“We signed an agreement for player exchange as well as other things like coaches (exchange) and (sharing) knowledge.
This agreement takes effect immediately but we have to get ourselves organised and tweak a few things first,” he said.
De Four said he marvelled at the youth development programme at Cruzeiro which he called a factory.
“Children Under-12 get dropped off at the facility from 7am and they go to class, get their meals and everything and play football too. There is law that says you can’t live there (at the club) under the age of 14 but basically everything is in place. It’s like a football factory here,” he said.
De Four said he was stunned by the standard of football on display by some of the youngsters at the club.
“When they are playing a game, it’s very organised and no coach is shouting at them to pass the ball or anything like that. They already know what they have to do,” he said.
Asked to summarise his stay in Brazil, the local coach said: “It was a wonderful, edifying and a nice learning experience.” He also described the city of Belo Horizonte as “simply beautiful” and hopes to return soon.