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CUAFC - World Elite University Football Tournament

Having returned from the World Elite University Football Tournament it sounds like the Cambridge University team had a great time! Below is an account of the Team's time on the Tournament from Jez George, CEO of Cambridge United Football Club. A big congratulations to all the team from everyone at Cambridge University Sport.  

 

Having managed CUAFC on their tour to China to compete in the World Elite University Football Tournament, such has been the attitude, work ethic, commitment and performance level of the players that I felt compelled to pen a few words.

This squad was put together at the last moment by Henry Warne (Captain) and Joe Painter (Sabbatical Officer), after the tournament organisers gave us very short notice and the dates clashed with graduation, making a number of the Blues team unavailable.  Therefore, even putting a squad together was a challenge.

As a result, our 18 players consisted of Old Boys, Blues & Falcons, a mix of young and slightly older, with varying degrees of university football experience.  If anyone has watched us play, or seen the camaraderie of the group off the pitch, they would never had believed that.  We looked like a team that had been together for years.  We showed fantastic team spirit, a real togetherness and a selfless attitude.  This was summed up by Nick Hilton's reaction to not being selected for the semi-final; simply magnificent.  Team first.  His encouragement and tactical instructions were non-stop and summed up both him as an individual and the mind-set of the group as a whole.  Class. In short, it has been an absolute pleasure to have been their coach.  I have been genuinely proud of them, and so should everyone connected with Cambridge University and CUAFC, past and present.

We have been excellent on the pitch and the way in which the players have embraced and implemented tactical instructions has been first class.  We will have played 5 games in 8 days, all 90 minutes in duration, and all played in temperatures of 35+ degrees and humidity over 70%.  Just to make it even harder, the games were played at 2pm and 4pm, in the hottest part of the day.  For sheer physical effort, that takes some doing.  To then combine that physical effort with mental application and technical skill is incredible, especially out of season.  We had one 45-minute training session together the day before our first game.  As I said, the players have been superb.

We had a tough group in that neither of our two opponents were "gimmes".  But we also had an advantage in playing on the second and third day, therefore being able to watch our opponents before playing them.  In our first match, against Leiden University, we set up to exploit the weaknesses of our Dutch opponents and executed the game plan superbly, pressing at the right moment, counter attacking from the middle third superbly and, most importantly, we were clinical in front of goal.  4-0 up at half-time!  We also started a lot of the players I didn't know and hadn't seen play before - what a pleasant surprise that was!  Ollie Lerway, Rufus Saunders and Joe Ellis take a bow - all in the goals and very impressive.  And that was only the start.  All three contributed massively throughout the week.  I described Ollie's crossing as "Beckhamesque", Joe became lethal with his head (at least against Chinese opponents who don't like heading the ball!) and Rufus was provider as much as scorer but a constant threat in the attacking third.

We dispatched two Chinese universities (Huazhong and Tsinghua, the hosts) with minimum energy expended and, due to the excellent performances of the younger players, we really did have an entire group of 18 that we could rotate and utilise according to the requirements of the game, to share minutes and keep everyone as fresh as possible.  Difficult with 450 minutes in 8 days!

I can't go any further without mentioning our two full backs - Joe Gregory and James Campsie.  The former I knew before this trip, but he has come of age and shown a confidence, assuredness and leadership qualities that I didn’t know he possessed.  And James has been a revelation: composed on the ball, great quality and a really tough character. I could watch him play all day and love his confidence in possession of the ball, whatever the situation, circumstance or opponent.

The German University, Tübingen, stood between us and a place in the final.  They had scored 26 goals in their previous 3 games, play in the fifth level of German football (regional semi-pro), were all aged 24+ (bar one player) and had dispatched last year’s finalists by scoring ten goals without reply (6-0 v Melbourne University, 4-0 v Renmin University).

We lost 2-0 but gave them a proper game.  The two goals they scored were disappointing - a free header from a corner and a "shanked" cross that flew into the top corner - and we had what I honestly believe was a perfectly good goal disallowed for a foul on the keeper.  But, as far as negatives go, that's it.  The players were magnificent.  The first half was the best execution of a game-plan, bearing in mind the circumstances and comparative quality of opposition, that I think I have ever seen.  We limited them to almost nothing and created our own chances.  The concentration, discipline and skill of the players was unbelievable.  We changed to become a little more offensive after conceding the second goal, and forced the first real save from their keeper (in the tournament!) when Johnny Gorringe found Haith Sherif with an exquisite pass.  Two good "Old’uns" combining.  Such was our level of performance, that we even earned the support of the Oxford team watching the game and should have earned the respect of everyone present.  Tübingen's level was far higher than anyone in last year's tournament and they would definitely compete at the highest level of BUCS football.    

The players have my respect.  Every one of them.  The Old Boys have been class.  James May showed his quality as a player but more so as a team player.  His fitness and energy levels are also ridiculous.  The same could be said for Joe Painter who has been a real leader on and off the pitch, and did a fantastic job for the team in our semi-final. 

But everyone in the squad has contributed.  Max has been immense, showing great maturity on the pitch, and CUAFC as well as MUFC now have a "King Eric"!  His goal against Tsinghua University was a great finish.  Rich Wolstenhulme and Omar Amjad have been equally impressive at centre back and defended superbly against the Germans, Dan Sandbach has excelled in every position he's played, both GK's (Henry & John Harrison) have been excellent and the only person that I now failed to mention is Danny Kerrigan.  So I will leave it like that!

We have played different systems every game: 4-4-1-1, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1, 4-3-1-2 & 4-3-2-1.  We have played with a false 9, split strikers, while our midfield and wide players have adapted to different roles and responsibilities.  The way the players have taken on information has been brilliant and it has hopefully motivated them to gain more knowledge.  It should also have given them belief about their ability and, by being smart (this is Cambridge!), their ability to compete against anyone, even when they come up against a better team.  

And a word for Ollie Lerway.  I only found out during the week that he'd broken his ankle in March and was only just back in time for the tour.  That sums up the attitude throughout the group.  From his work rate, I would never have known.  And a student at Clare College, who's facilities Cambridge United use for our Training Ground!  

Finally, sometimes you can show class off the pitch as well as on it.  Oxford asked us after our defeat in the semi-final if we could support their request to play our 3rd/4th place play-off the next day, as they had a number of players who had to travel home early.  I asked our players to decide and despite the obvious disadvantage to winning, the whole squad unanimously agreed.  Whatever the result against Oxford, that was the right decision and one that speaks volumes of the players.

CUAFC obviously has a proud history.  Out of respect for that history, Cambridge United managed to source, through Genesis, our kit supplier, and Puma, our kit manufacturer, the real "Cambridge Blue" colour to create a timeless CUAFC kit.  This has been kindly sponsored by China Medical Systems and has been worn for the first time during this tour, and no group of players could have worn this shirt with greater distinction. 

Thank you to Danny Kerrigan for his help, Henry Warne & Joe Painter for allowing me to take the team and the following players for making the last eight days an absolute privilege and pleasure:

Joe Gregory, James Campsie, James May, Richard Wolstenhulme, Omar Amjad, Joe Ellis, Rufus Saunders, Goeric Huybrechts, Ollie Lerway, Max Pappert, Haitham Sherif, Dan Sandbach, Nick Hilton, John Gorringe, John Harrison.

 

Jez George

CEO, Cambridge United Football Club