Football, says Nobel prize laureate Oscar Arias, is an opportunity.
It is not just an opportunity for superhuman goals and nail-biting saves, or for celebrations and commiserations.
According to Mr Arias, the sport goes beyond borders and nationalities as countries come together as equals on the playing field.
This is the central philosophy behind the Allianz Junior Football Camp. Now in its 10th year, this is an initiative by Allianz SE to groom budding footballers between the ages of 14 and 16 from all around the world.
Mr Jason Fong, chief executive officer at Allianz Global Investors Singapore says, “As a partner of football superpower FC Bayern Munich, Allianz is dedicated to promoting football. Allianz believes that the values of football — teamwork, passion and discipline — are equally important on and off the pitch. We host the Allianz Junior Football Camp every year for young football lovers around the world to hone their skills and broaden their horizons.”
Several thousand aspirants from 23 countries applied for a spot this year, but only 56 were chosen for the coveted grand prize — a five-day training camp with FC Bayern Munich.
Last year, the selection trials took place in Singapore for the first time and marked the debut of a Singaporean participant in the camp’s history, Muhammad Syahmi Raidauddin Mohd Salihen.
This year, the camp was held in Munich, Germany and was attended by not one, but two Singaporean representatives: Isis Ang, 15, from Fajar Secondary School and Muhamad Raqin Shamrin, 16, from Greendale Secondary School.
After passing the Allianz Junior Football Camp Singapore Selection, Isis, Raqin and two other Singaporean candidates were sent to the regional Allianz Junior Football Camp in Bangkok, Thailand.
While training twice a day for the four-day, three-night camp would have been challenging enough on its own, participants were constantly put into different teams so that everyone could interact with each other.
The camp culminated in a friendly tournament, where the young footballers’ mettle was tested as they learned to work with their new teammates for the first time.
“That was actually the hardest part, communicating with new friends from different countries,” laughs Raqin. “When we first started, we had trouble even just introducing ourselves to each other.”
After training beneath the sweltering Thai sun, Isis and Raqin were chosen to advance to the camp in Munich, which took place from August 27 to 31.
“I didn’t expect it at all,” recalls Raqin. “I didn’t think I would be heading to Germany, but when I heard the news, I was really excited.”
“It’s such a rare opportunity,” says Isis, who was over the moon as she had never travelled out of Asia. “When a chance like this rolls around, you have to be determined to make the most of it.”
And make the most of it they did. Both players relished the opportunity to make use of FC Bayern Munich’s state-of-the-art technology and cutting-edge training methodologies to hone their skills.
Off the pitch, participants had the chance to meet the legendary goalkeeper and long-serving Bayern captain Oliver Kahn, as well as astronaut Gerhard Thiele. Together, they evaluated the concepts of confidence, change and trust. The participants also worked with one another to design a satellite connecting to a space balloon and learnt to build a robot.
But the jewel in the crown was the chance to meet the professional footballers, titans of FC Bayern Munich, in person. In addition to meeting FC Bayern Munich players and watching them practise, participants were given the chance to watch Bayern Munich legend and former Germany captain Bastian Schweinsteiger play his testimonial match at the Allianz Arena.
“It was quite a surreal experience,” says Isis. “Some of these people even won the World Cup back in 2014.”
“You only ever see them on TV, so I never thought I would get to see them up close and interact with them.”
Adds Raqin, who has been a longtime supporter of the club: “Meeting the superstars of FC Bayern Munich was a real highlight. Before I even went for the camp, that was the main thing in my mind.”
Isis and Raqin have since parted ways with their friends, but fond memories of their time in Munich and Thailand still remain.
“The camp may be over, but I’m still so happy,” says Raqin. “The camp really helped me improve on my basics and taught me how to be a better soccer player. But just as importantly, it gave me the opportunity to make friends from all over the world and I’m really grateful for that.”