Playing football overseas is a dream for every young footballer. In late 2019, Pavan Khun Khun was fortunate to see what football and life were like in England. The chance to encounter the culture, lifestyle and passion that is football in the United Kingdom was a dream experience. And this Franklin United player boarded the plane with a group of kiwi footballers with a mindset on learning and adapting to any challenges ahead.
Khun Khun’s goal was to experience how football is played at the big club academies, how players handle themselves on and off the field. It took a couple of days to adjust to the time-zone change, but before long he and his fellow kiwis were on the field playing the likes of Charlton Athletic, Reading, Ipswich Town, Tottenham Hotspur and Wimbledon. “It was amazing, to be able to see the facilities and then play against the best opposition from each club in our age group. The way they play the game was a huge eye-opener, they were brilliant”, Pavan said.
“The Tottenham Hotspur way was unbelievable, at the facility they had a First Team reception that day. They have a stunning 77 acre complex with 15 grass pitches and a few turf fields. We played Tottenham and won 5-2, which is a superb memory. The way they play, the movement off the ball and the tempo of play in possession was something I will always remember. After the game we bumped into a 10-year-old player from their academy system, he answered some questions we had” commented Khun Khun.
One stood out, “Who is the best team you’ve played against?” His answer surprised a lot of them, “What in the UK or outside of it?” he said. A 10-year-old who has been to several countries fully paid to play football against other clubs was crazy to think about. The young fella said the hardest teams he had faced were Manchester United domestically and internationally it was Ajax.
The main difference Pavan found there compared to home was the speed of the game, how they utilise space and expose weaknesses in the opposition. “The teams we faced would knock the ball around using a maximum of 2 touches, which made it tough for us, the ball would be on one side of the field and then to the next before you knew it,” he said.
“Against Charlton who was, in my opinion, the best side we faced on the trip, played incredible football. They dominated using width, their fullbacks would create overloads every time their winger had possession. The pace, timing, ball skills, game understanding, fitness – it was incredible. Some of those players have been training with the first team and have even had game time in the Championship. One player I remember James Vennings, he was amazing on the ball. He was an absolute baller, not long after we played them he broke into the first team” Khun Khun said of the player.
After facing a number of players who were a class above, Pavan and his teammates were fortunate enough to see their training schedules, it is a great set up.
“An academy player would wake up, have breakfast, they would be off to the training facility. They would complete a mid-morning ball work session. Lunch at the club would be provided, then onto schooling. The school was at the training complex!
“This wasn’t like our education though, it was football-specific, including how to manage their bodies, what exercises they needed to perform to recover and the like. How perfect would that be in New Zealand” Khun Khun questioned?
All of these experiences on the tour gave Pavan an appreciation of what it takes, the level of work that goes into being a player at the highest level, and the way the world thinks about football.
“It is on another level to New Zealand. It also shows how hard kiwi players that have ‘made it’ overseas have put in and the competition they face.
“It opened my eyes to the pathways available if you dare to dream big in the game.
“Players need to be fully prepared with ability and confidence to take on the world” he determined.