MADRID, Spain – When my flight took off for Madrid, I was expecting to visit my family and gather content for a “European football vs. American football” story.
I couldn’t have imagined what I would find.
A piece of home
The first task to accomplish? Collecting stories.
With the help of fabulous colleagues, we discovered a campus of Saint Louis University in Madrid, which is home to international students and American students looking to gain experience abroad. This is where we met David Aldeano.
“I’m the football coach for Saint Louis University here in Madrid,” coach Aldeano said.
In a conversation that started in English and ended in Spanish, Coach Aldeano and I discussed a handful of different topics related to school, city culture and, of course, football. .
“Guys start at three or four here,” coach Aldeano said. “There is a [very intense] football culture here in Madrid.
He’s not wrong.
With academy systems scattered across the country, Spain is starting to produce some of the best talent in the world at a very young age. Barcelona, a fixture in world football, currently have a 17-year-old Spanish midfielder named Pablo Martin Paez Gavira, or simply Gavi.
Football with SLU-Madrid
After a few minutes of interrupted conversation in English, Coach Aldeano and I switched to a conversation in Spanish, a more comfortable situation for him (and I did my best).
At this point, we’ve discussed the ins and outs of football at SLU’s Madrid campus.
Reality? Most athletes participate in the college club football system, with scheduled games and practices featuring competition from the surrounding area.
No scholarships. No contract. Just fun.
There is, however, an opportunity for some of Coach Aldeano’s top talent to play with more competitive competition.
Coach Aldeano explained how he sent four of his best athletes to compete with lower level Spanish clubs.
One such athlete is his club’s team captain, Fernando Monserrate.
Monserrate was born in the city of Murcia, in southern Spain, before spending his “high school years” in England.
Football was part of Monserrate’s life from an early age, but he didn’t really start taking it seriously until just before his teenage years.
Soon this became an important part of his life, competing for academy programs in England before returning to Spain for university. In Spain, he started playing both for the SLU club team and for a professional club in Madrid.
“It kept things interesting,” Monserrate said. “For us, we had a very good team because luckily we had just a few players who had played at a high level in the past.”
But now he has put his sites on a different team.
The American dream
Last January, Monserrate booked a one-way trip to St. Louis, MO, for its first semester at the main campus of St. Louis University.
Although school is certainly a priority, the Spanish footballer plans to try out for Billikens men’s soccer team this spring. He has already been in contact with head coach Kevin Kalish.
“It’s very competitive,” said coach Kalish. “Eventually we will take 20 to 30 children from the list.”
Just under 10 of those athletes have scholarships, giving Monserrate the opportunity to fill one of the other 10-20 spots. He believes his experience in Spanish and English football can be a great asset for the Billikens.
“The physical, I got used to it a lot in England… and then I learned a lot, tactically in Spain,” said Monserrate. “I think the United States is just one of those countries that does it a little bit differently.”
The NCAA allows 48-hour trials, a stark contrast to the weeks-long trials Monserrate said he endured overseas. Monserrate expects to have his trial next month once he recovers from a leg injury he suffered in one of his last away games.
Until then, the Spaniard will look to continue acclimatizing to life in his new home.
I’m settling in well. My classes are really cool. The campus here is amazing. It’s definitely a different world from Madrid,” Monserrate said. “I’m excited to start and start. The kind of real work starts now and we’ll see how it goes.
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