Manchester United legend Gary Neville and FBB patron Guillem Balague went head-to-head in a live debate for Football Beyond Borders’ fundraiser on Thursday 26 November at the prestigious Cafe Football in Stratford, London.
Spain may have schooled England when the national sides met in Alicante earlier in November, but Roy Hodgson’s No. 2 and former United captain Neville wasn’t done there. He joined renowned Spanish football expert and Sky Sports journalist Balague for another ‘friendly’ encounter – discussing the differences in Three Lions and La Roja football culture.
The event was also a chance to celebrate some of the FBB team and the participants who have benefitted from their work, and Neville got a chance to witness first-hand the impact of the FBB Schools programme. The Sky TV pundit faced a grilling from Rashad, a 13-year-old student at Archbishop Lanfranc Academy and FBB’s very own journalist in the making, on everything from his thoughts on the opportunities for young footballers to whether he prefers the Etihad or Anfield (not an easy decision for the Old Trafford hero)!
As well as witnessing a debate between two of the biggest voices in football, guests took part in our ‘Red or Yellows’ game, heard from FBB participants and tucked into some fine food from Cafe Football – all in aid of fundraising to help more young people have the chance to become involved in FBB’s innovative education programmes.
On top of all that, FBB showcased some of the films produced through FBB TV – the Football Beyond Borders channel – which gives a platform for its participants to learn media skills and even interview some of the game’s biggest stars.
Jack Badu, Head of Coaching, rounded off the night by appealing for new FBB supporters. And there was added incentive for attendees with an auction for an array of ‘priceless’ football memorabilia and experiences. The highlight of the auction was seeing two sets of tickets to watch Salford City’s upcoming FA Cup match, including a night at Hotel Football, sold for £3000 each!!!
The overwhelming response meant that FBB will be able to recruit 75 new young participants in 2016 after raising more than £23,000!
Cafe Football also got a massive round of applause as they presented a cheque for the £6000 they have raised for FBB this year via their £1 on the bill scheme.
FBB founder Jasper Kain played host to the football experts, who discussed issues including how the Premier League and La Liga compare, non-league football and youth development.
Much of the debate focused on the influx of foreign players, with Neville arguing the top Premier League teams have lost a “core” of British players that count for so much. However, he admitted United would have done nothing without the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Eric Cantona.
“We’re miles off at the moment. Tactically, they’ve [La Liga teams] been better, and physically they’ve matched us – I’m concerned,” he said.
“We have Leicester at the top of the league though, that certainly wouldn’t happen in La Liga!”
Balague also had praise for Spanish giants Barca and Madrid, arguing the history books say it all.
“There’s something we’re doing that is right,” he said. “We’ve won 23 titles in the last 15 years.”
Neville and Balague aren’t just rivals on international football, their interests spread across the game, and none more so than to a brisk Saturday afternoon at the heart of British football. Neville, one of several Class of ’92 owners at Salford City, and Balague, director of football at Biggleswade United, talked about the impact this has had on them – and how they’ve impacted the clubs.
Balague said: “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s about helping a community to grow. We want to teach them a different way of thinking.
Class of ’92 graduate Neville and Balague, who has seen first-hand the influence of Barca’s famed La Masia academy, stressed the importance of opportunities for young people – something which FBB is working to improve.
Balague said: “The players are not getting the opportunities, there’s too big a gap between the first team and the academy. Academies should be an education.”
Neville agreed: “Speaking for England, there are managers and coaches that believe in bringing through players. “Pochettino believes it. Clubs like Southampton and United believe it. It should be the model of every club.”