How far would you go to fulfill your child’s soccer dreams?
Millions of parents across the United States spend large sums of money, and drive thousands of miles, in order for their kids to take part in elite club leagues, Olympic Development Program and the like. Bill Moravek was once one of them, driving his young sons William (age eight) and Michael (age seven) from Winchester, Va. to Bethesda, Md. several times a week for practices and games with Bethesda Soccer Club, where Moravek also coached.
But he always wanted to give his boys, whose mother, Cheryl, is English, the best possible chance to develop their natural abilities. So Moravek began traveling across the United Kingdom in search of a professional club that would offer his sons the right opportunity.
That long process finally paid off in January when English Premier League side Fulham FC accepted William and Michael into their youth system and hired Bill, an A-licensed coach who has led clubs and national teams in England and the Caribbean, as a trainer and international scout.
“The boys are very fortunate to have such an opportunity as this,” said Moravek in a trans-Atlantic interview with Potomac Soccer Wire on Friday. “Getting into an academy is not easy and we have been back and forth now for the last three years, exploring potential clubs.
“They have been to Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham, Bolton and Southampton during that time frame. We narrowed our choices to Arsenal and Fulham in the end, and for me Fulham was the better choice overall, as their kids were fantastic but also the schools in the area were good and south London is quite nice.”
Eyeing the extended winter break that is the norm for youth players in the mid-Atlantic, Bill and Cheryl decided to make the move to London as quickly as possible to integrate the boys into England’s almost-year-round training environment. They have settled into a quiet neighborhood that is a 20-minute walk from Fulham’s Motspur Park headquarters.
The club’s youth program is overseen by Huw Jennings, the man who helped build the Southampton FC academy into one of the best in England, churning out young stars like Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale.
“Huw was one of the bigs reason why we came to Fulham,” said Moravek, who spent part of his own coaching career at Southampton under former manager Gordan Strachan several years ago, when the Saints played in the Premier League.
“He has only been at the club for two years but the changes he has made have been massive. Also, Malcom Elias, who was head scout at Liverpool, is here. Between the two of them and the quality players they have recognized and developed, they have a great track record.”
Michael is a bit too young to sign with the Cottagers academy proper, but has joined the club’s Under-7/Under-8 development program and looks on course to follow his brother in the months ahead.
And while the long road to a successful career has only just begun, the elder Moravek sibling looks well-placed to make waves in the Fulham system. Blessed with speed and endurance as well as strong technique, William has so far held his own against bigger, older boys at the U-10 level, where ruthless competition is the norm just as it is at the senior level.
“When they tested him at Fulham last year with the age group above him in the 30 meters, 30 meters agility and vertical leap, he [placed] 2-4 out of 15 boys in all of it,” noted his father, “and he is giving away nearly two years to these boys.
“All these boys are tough, inner-city kids,” he added. “When William came in January, the players were constantly trying to fight him – literally. Very physical, trying to intimidate him.”
Perhaps most importantly, William also appears to possess a focus and drive that is rare at his age.
“The first day we got here, after signing his contract, William said, ‘I am so happy to be here, now I can start living my dream. If I work real hard I can make it,’” recalled Moravek.
The ultra-professional environment of a Premier League club’s youth academy would seem to offer his sons the ideal chance to grow into elite players. But Moravek knows how tenuous such situations can be, and he hopes to keep them grounded and out of the limelight as much as possible.
“They are both on cloud nine,” he said, “but as in life, there are no guarantees, and especially with this high end of football, things can change quite dramatically very quickly. So they need to just have fun, have a good attitude, stay humble, listen and work very hard. That is all they can really do – the rest will happen the way it should.”