TWELVE-year-old Queen’s Royal College (QRC) student and Queen’s Park Academy player Addae Paponette made good use of a rare opportunity over the course of the school holidays when he engaged in trials with Manchester United, Preston North End and other football clubs in England.

Paponette was with his QP academy team and their coach Anthony Selby on a two-week tour in England, where they visited top tier stadiums and practised with a number of teams.

Upon the completion of QP’s tour, he was invited to stay in London with CrownPro Elite Football Academy, which opened even more opportunities of exposure for the young forward.

At CrownPro, he got the attention of coaches and scouts from Manchester United, Sheffield United, West Bromwich Albion and Stoke City. The first three offered him trials for the winter.

“He impressed with his physical attributes, especially his height and strength,” said Rianne Paponette, the player’s mother who accompanied him on the trip.

She said he was scouted by Manchester United head of youth recruitment, David Harrison, on the penultimate day of the tour when the two clubs trained together.

“It was within 15 minutes the scout became interested in him,” his mother said.

Paponette was subsequently invited to the Aon Training Complex, Manchester United’s training academy in Carrington.

“We got the trials and he performed exceptionally well. The next day, we got word from our coach that he was impressed with his performance.

“What the Man United coaches liked about him the most was his athletic structure and his agility and he even mentioned his core fitness.”

She said Harrison extended an invitation for Paponette to attend trials during the winter period, typically the more testing season for footballers in England.

“In his (Harrison’s) words, ‘winter is a different type of beast.’ And based on how he performs then, he may be asked to stay for a continual trial period,” she added.

When asked if Paponette is capable of preparing for the winter trials in the UK given the contrast in climate between the two countries, his mother said he was not worried “because he performs even better under pressure.”

Upon his recent return to TT, Paponette was interviewed by Newsday and gave his impression of the football culture in England.

He said although the training techniques were not particularly new to him because his coach at QP, Anthony Selby, has a modern approach to the game, the intensity was something less familiar to him.

“...the intensity of football that is played there is of a higher standard than Trinidad,” Paponette said, adding that he was impressed by the “passion, drive and technical play on and off the ball at the various clubs.”

“Every day it has different sets (in training) like fitness, ball control, shooting, passing, skills, all different techniques you need to know before you want to make it in professional football. But the passion they have playing the game... it’s not mostly like having fun. It’s a business to them... They consider it like life.”

Asked for the best advice he received from a UK coach, Paponette responded, “The coaches in England (told me) ‘when you’re tired on the field, just remember your mental ability is stronger than your technical ability.’”

He said he enjoyed visiting the various training grounds and stadiums, his favourite of which was Tottenham Hotspur’s training facility in London. “The field was well kept, it was pitch perfect. And the best stadium I saw was Liverpool’s stadium (Anfield). It was clean, fabulous and one of the best stadiums I’ve ever seen in my life.”

It was an experience he said he wished to share with other young, ambitious footballers at home. His advice to them was, “you’ll never know when the opportunity might come knocking, so always try your best.”

While a student at Arima Boys’ Government and playing for FC Santa Rosa, Paponette got his first real sight at elite football when he visited Barcelona’s academy last year.

He was one of three players selected ahead of about 150 others at the Nestle Milo FC Barcelona Football Tournament at the Larry Gomes Stadium, Arima.

Last season, he copped three MVP awards in the Atlantic National Primary Schools Football League. He was also top scorer and MVP in the last edition of the Republic Bank National Youth League.

As a forward, he spoke about his best and weakest attributes.

“One of my main strengths in football is playing excellent under pressure. “(Specifically) my shooting, passing and control are what I’m best at.

“But one of the weaknesses I’ve seen within myself is I share the ball a little too much when I have a clear chance to score. I will talk to my coaches and see how I can work on that. I like people too much. I like to share my goals.”

He said he began playing football at age five.

“But at the age of ten, I realised that I was above average to the other ten and 12-year-olds because my technical and mental abilities were stronger. My physical abilities were stronger. Every time I play football, they (coaches) carry me up a year or two. I’m 12 now and they have me play with the Under-16s. I feel I can go up a little more.”

Looking ahead to the potential opportunities in the UK, which may begin as early as October, Paponette said he has no fear of stepping up and staying away from his parents for a prolonged period of time.

“I’ve done it multiple times before. I’ve been to many camps that had me away from my parents for a long time. So I know what it takes. I’ll miss her and her food but I can’t turn down that chance to play abroad.”

SOURCE: T&T Newsday