By Charles Boehm
Bethesda SC products William and Michael Moravek, aged 9 and 8, respectively, continue to progress through the youth academy system at English Premier League member Fulham FC and have signed on for another year after impressing in their first 18 months in the selective program.
Just like U.S. international Clint Dempsey and the rest of the Fulham senior squad they hope to someday emulate, the precociously skilled brothers have to maintain their places year in, year out by earning an invitation to return for each season in the academy. William, who turns 10 this month, will train and compete at the Under-11 level this fall while Michael will work with the U-9 group.
The entire family relocated to London to enroll the boys in FFC’s system in January of last year, a move made possible by their mother Cheryl’s British citizenship and the fact that both boys were born in England.
English authorities do not formally track scores or standings at those age levels. But competition is nonetheless fierce and Fulham’s youth teams routinely tour throughout Europe to compete against the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Ajax, Barcelona, Marseille, PSV Eindhoven, FC Metz, Bayern Munich, AC Milan and other luminary clubs. Both boys have featured prominently for their respective teams, including time spent in important central midfield roles, though club and family alike recognize that they are still in the early stages of a long road.
“Here at Fulham, there is a strong sense of developing the youth, and getting those players into the first team,” their father, Bill Moravek, told The Soccer Wire recently. “Huw Jennings has only been the academy director here for three and a half years, so it takes time to see your vision through. Right now the focus on these young guys is to see [them] reach their full potential and hopefully make it into the first team at some point, which in William and Michaels’ case will be another eight years at least.”
Bill admits that the youth programs of several other leading clubs around Europe have watched or made inquiries about the duo, though he and Cheryl remain highly impressed with Fulham’s youth curriculum under Jennings, one of England’s most highly-respected youth directors, and have no desire to uproot the family from their settled life in southwest London.
“The boys are happy and have adjusted well with football as well as with school,” explained Moravek. “Fulham have treated us so well, we feel very fortunate for the opportunity…[and] the academy is making great strides towards becoming one of Europe’s elite Academy programs…The U-18s won the league and national championship, the U-14s won the Premier League tournament back in the spring, and all the age groups have had success domestically and abroad on tours.
“There have been quite a few that have [risen] through into the reserves and the first team as well, which of course should be the goal of any academy…And the club, from academy up to the first team, is playing a technical and creative modern game which is something that is very much needed in England.”
An experienced coach and Fulham talent scout himself, Moravek expresses optimism about the evolution of the youth training approach in England, citing a new evaluation system, called the Elite Player Performance Plan, being rolled out by the Football Association.
“There will be greater accountability for the youth in English academy programs in terms of developing players for their respective clubs as well as for the national program,” he noted. “Academy programs will be classed as [Category] 1, 2, 3 or 4 in terms of level, 1 being the highest and best. No one knows the results of the audits that have been going on, but I think Fulham will be well placed to be a CAT 1 academy.”
Moravek recently spent time on this side of the Atlantic to renew his “A” License from U.S. Soccer and when asked to compare the current state of the development picture in the respective nations, he offers fairly encouraging words for stateside soccer.
“I think we have made great strides in the USA over the years,” he said. “We have to remember where we have come from in 1990 to now. It is a massive leap in improvement, and really I think we have only just scratched the potential.
“England, as with most countries, has its own share of issues to resolve. You have many [academy] clubs that should be better but still play a brand of ball that is not attractive to watch, not technical or creative and most importantly, just not effective.
“But there are some very good academy programs here, of course, and I would like to think Fulham is one of the best, if not the best, because their approach to development is modern and quite sophisticated,” continued Moravek. “Along with quality English coaches and support staff, there is also a strong contingent of Dutch coaches, which I believe can only help in the long-term development of these kids and programs as a whole. The technical and creative ability, along with football intelligence, is so very important in terms of youth development and Fulham are well placed to nurture their young academy players to reach these objectives.”
The Moraveks will return to the U.S. later this month during Fulham’s summer break for the Moravek Soccer School Residential Camp in Frostburg, Md., and return to London in early August to begin preparations for the new season.
“We will just go one day at a time,” said Bill, “and let them have fun, work hard, stay healthy, stay humble and keep learning.”