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Issott: Israel showed U19s new side to life

13 March 2019

With Academy football often being an unforgiving challenge that puts young aspiring players well and truly through their paces, footballing hopefuls need to experience trials and events outside of their usual comfort zone.

It's one of the reasons that the Palace Academy sent an Under-19 squad to Tel Aviv, Israel, where they competed over the course of five days for the Maccabi Tel Aviv winter tournament.

Leading them there, along with Under-16s' coach Rob Quinn, was Academy Director, Gary Issott, who guided the Academy through a gruelling series of five matches in the Middle Eastern heat where they faced teams older than them with considerably more extensive tournament history.

In an interview in Palace TV's exclusive documentary - which can be viewed in full below - Issott spoke about the importance of stretching the Academy players and about how they have developed as a result of it.

He explained: "This tournament is tough for us, we've brought largely an Under-18 or Under-17 squad. Tournament football is great for young players and I think when you come away for a period of time like we have - five days - you can learn about players what might take you six weeks when you see them day-to-day on the training ground.

"You are looking for lads that can potentially go on to play for our first team. Have they got the right technical qualities? They've got to be aided by the right professionalism and mentality; that's what defines a lot of players.

"We all went to school with really talented footballers, and people will sit in pubs and say: 'I can't believe he never made it; he was a fantastic winger.' But what defines a lot of players and people we've met is their mentality and whether they want to commit to really forging a career in football, which takes a lot of sacrifices."

And going behind the scenes to the changing rooms, Palace TV also recorded how Issott and Quinn interact with their squads and in what ways they motivate them. In one moment, Issott sought to explain to the Academy the difficulty of their task in Israel, but suggested he didn't want to tell them its magnitude until they were well underway with their matches.

Encouraging them before their second game in one day, Issott said: "This is a really tough tournament for us, it's an Under-19 group and we've got one Under-19 here. The effort [will be immense]. I didn't want to tell you right at the start. If you knew it's going to be an almost impossible task, what would you have started doing? It would be in your head. I need a performance."

17-year-old David Boateng - seemingly buoyed by Issott's words - interrupted his stand-in manager, responding: "We will, man, we'll give a good one."

At the end of the tournament, Issott took some time to reflect on the team's performance and just what it had meant to him and the squad to have visited such a unique country for what was an even more unique experience.

"Going into the games," he said, "we were giving away two years and with our 16s playing, it was three years. We knew it would be physically and psychologically a massive challenge for the group. The players will have learnt so much, the draws and the narrow defeats are probably wins for this group where they are giving away so much in age.

"This is why you need to play tournament football as part of the players' development. Playing against foreign opposition, playing in situations that you find yourself in, against referees and late goals that can really affect confidence. It's really important that we didn't just stay in a hotel and go to a football pitch. We've shown the players a different side of life that they wouldn't have seen back home."

You can watch the full, remarkable documentary from Palace TV, simply click on the video below. 

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