Gibraltar Under 16’s start their Under 16 Development tournament in Cyprus on Thursday, where Stephen Head’s side play the hosts, Armenia and Wales’ over the course of five days.
Before the tournament, we caught up with Head to gather his thoughts on a number of topics. First on the agenda was the team’s preparations for this tournament, in comparison to last year where the team won the tournament on home soil. “Unfortunately preparation has not been as good as last years development tournament , while also some players have had to withdraw from training as school work takes its toll . So as a whole I am confident but would have liked more time to prepare with the boys.”
As mentioned, Gibraltar won the tournament last year thanks to a memorable, unusual goal against Macedonia on the Rock. Head believes that last year’s win adds pressure to the team despite new opposition this time out. “ Yes there will be pressure but we must be aware that we have been given different opponents which on paper are much tougher opposition that last year’s teams.”
A problem for Gibraltar’s youngsters at this age, arguably a problem for a lot of young players around Europe at this age group is a lack of real competitive action to prepare them for what lies ahead. These development tournaments set up by UEFA are proving to be a valuable preparation tool for the Under 17’s and ahead; Head agrees with this view. “It is important as these young players will have plenty of experience of playing international tournaments by the time they reach the senior level. The experience we gather will help them perform, which is different to our current senior players that were thrown into the lions den (when starting the Euro 2016 qualifying).”
Last month’s internationals saw 17 year-old Jayce Olivero-Mascarenhas make his debut for the full national team. Players in this current squad will no doubt see the progress Jayce has made at such a young age, and believe they too can do this in the coming years. Head hopes his players use the likes of Jayce as an example. “It is important for them to look up at players like Jayce to see that hard work does pay off. I wish we had lots more with the attitude that Jayce has shown when traveling to tournaments with us .
“There are other players to mention aswell that soon will be knocking at the door of the senior squad. In Gibraltar what we lack is the intensity of good competitive matches at junior level to keep our players improving.”