By Don Fennell
Caleb Clarke grew up an Arsenal fan, but lately he’s thrown his allegiance behind Chelsea as a show of support for his favourite player Didier Drogba.
“I think I’m very much like him,” says Clarke, a 17-year-old Richmondite who aspires to play professional soccer in Europe.“He’s a big, strong guy but also technically good.” Clarke is close to realizing his goal, hoping to be suiting up in Europe as early as this season. But in the interim, he’s gratefully soaking up as much as he can with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC residency team.
The team of elite youth players, aged 17 to 19 from around the world, is in Madrid for the next two weeks for a series of friendlies against the under-18 teams from some of Spanish and European soccer’s top pro clubs.
Their first match was yesterday against Club Atletico de Madrid. Today they’ll face Gaetafe Club de Futbol before winding up the tour against Rayo Vallecano de Madrid. They’ll also meet the members of Spanish and European giant Real Madrid.
Clarke is becoming a bit of a veteran when it comes to international travel. Since going to Holland for a month as a Grade 6 student with Total Soccer Systems, he’s also played friendlies in such places as Italy, Mexico, the U.S. and Germany. But he expects the tour of Spain to be as challenging and personally productive as any.
“Not only will it improve our level of play but it’s a chance for all the players to get exposure,” he says. “Maybe a few us can stay and play for one of the teams.”
When you’re as determined as Clarke, and always on the go, it doesn’t leave much time to hang out with friends. But he says it’s a necessary sacrifice.
“Ever since I was young I’ve always wanted to be a pro soccer player and I knew I had to do all this to get there,” he says. “Being part of the Whitecaps’ residency will help me get there, so anything that’s going to help me with my dream I’ll do.”
That means long, challenging days which typically begin at his Richmond home at 5:30 a.m. By 7:30 a.m. he’s on the Canada Line and on his way to join his Whitecap teammates for workouts at Burnaby 8 Rinks. At 10 a.m. weekdays, the boys are off to school at Burnaby Central Secondary (because of proximity to the Whitecaps’ training centre at Simon Fraser University). He returns home about 7 p.m. The schedule is in effect from September through to the end of June. The team also plays in the United Soccer League’s Premier Development League.
The Whitecaps residency squad is coached by Thomas Niendorf who has placed several players in Europe, most notably Canadian Owen Hargreaves with Bayern Munich. Hargreaves played seven seasons with Bayern Munich before transferring to Manchester United and going on to represent England.
“Too often young players are not prepared for the challenges of a professional career,” Niendorf says. “Through the Whitecaps professional club environment we can prepare these players mentally, physically and socially.”
The trip to Spain will provide the Whitecaps with a good opportunity to look at the Spaniards’ approach to the game, especially quality of ball possession, said Niendorf.
Clarke plays striker for the Whitecaps, but says he’s equally comfortable as an attacking midfielder.
And he’s a natural goal scorer, a desirable quality at any level.
“I believe it’s a God-given ability,” he says. “But it can only bring you so far. My dad (wellknown local coach Clive) has shaped me with everything else I need as a player. He’s always been there, taking me out to improve my fitness and skill. I think I have many good qualities but I have to keep working hard and being aggressive because everyone wants (to make the pros).
It’s the person who wants it most who will usually get it.”
Caleb Clarke Bio
Promising Richmond striker aims for European pro soccer career through Whitecaps residency program after impressive youth career that included a B.C. championship.
•Training spells in Italy with Udinese Calcio in August 2008 and April and May 2009.
•Trained with National Training Centre (B.C. region) programs in 2008 and 2009 and is part of Canada’s national youth team player pool.
•Played youth soccer with Richmond Selects, winning a B.C. title at the U12 level and four
Metro league championships and league cup titles from U13 to U16. Was a member of the B.C. team at U13, U14 and U15 and was a member of third-place team at Canadian all-star championships.
•Enjoys listening to music, watching movies and hanging out with friends.