Zenon’s Blog: Two years on

Two years on, I still get asked how I deal with retirement from professional football. Often I get asked by players still in the A-League or overseas, friends or former teammates at that “retirement” age with no idea what they’ll do next. Because for us, life works in the reverse. While most people study and work their way up in their career, perhaps hitting their peak in their mid thirties to forties, our careers come to an end at that point.

And we have to start again. Mentally, financially. We have to come up with something that’s going to not only fill a certain void, but pay the bills. After all, many of us have families and/or responsibilities at this point. And football is the only thing we know; it’s our apprenticeship, our uni education, it’s everything.

I know many former players that have had a very difficult transition from playing professional football to the next chapter. It’s a hard thing to explain, but professional sport gives you a focus like no other. Everything you do, every decision you make, is because of your career. It all hinges on the next contract. After all, you’re only ever as good as your last performance. The pressure is intense, and we love it. We thrive on it.

And when you retire, you lose that focus that kept you going all those years.

I am not sure of the percentage, but there are some pretty alarming stats when it comes to former athletes falling into depression post elite sport. As someone that was so dedicated to being footballer myself, I understand this. If I’m honest, I still struggle with not playing at times. I think I always will.

Robbie Slater once said, “There’s an unbelievably long list of footballers who suffer in silence when it all ends. Remove the lifestyle, the money, the adulation, the adrenaline, the crowds, the team spirit of the dressing room and it’s a huge void. The key is how quickly you move on and accept your new life.”

But I am one of the lucky ones. I found myself a new passion that still involved the game I loved and two years on, it’s stronger than ever. Being from Cairns myself, I am driven by the desire to see our young footballers grow by giving them high-level football coaching, more exposure, more quality games, more of everything. But I am not alone in this; all over Australia, former professional footballers are opening quality academies with the same goal; to give back to the next gen. To demonstrate, mentor and give these kids real insight into the game they know and love is priceless. I know of five more friends in football going down the same path as me and I am confident this form of extra and specialised football education will set a new standard at a junior level, and ultimately the effect it will have in years to come will be magnificent.

The last year, wrapped up

The last year has been absolutely monstrous. It started with an epic 3-day workshop with former Socceroo and Sydney FC scout Nick Carle – who was pretty impressed with the FNQ talent on display.

We’ve been to Sydney four times and on our last visit won the U12 Futboltec Invitational – a highly competitive tournament featuring some of the country’s best young footballers. Each time we’ve played at a state-of-the-art facility, namely homes of NPL powerhouses APIA Leichhardt and Blacktown City, both on artificial turf. And what a buzz it was for our players to see the place they won the last tournament on TV for the FFA Cup – Lily’s Football Centre.

But although each visit to Sydney was special, our last visit was especially so. Our players backed up a wonderful tournament performance with games against 3 huge NPL teams, had dinner with Central Coast Mariners Boss Paul Okon, got a visit from Sydney FC Star Josh Brillante and watched an entire Western Sydney Wanderers session with a meet and greet afterwards. I am fortunate enough to have met and have relationships with people all over the country in football and will continue to offer our players these opportunities. Because while living in Tropical FNQ is truly paradise, being so far away from the city comes at a cost. You can’t change something as sure as distance.

Check out the highlights video of the Sydney trip here.

In July we held our first mega information evening called Creating Athletes where we got together a physio, a strength and conditioning coach, a mental coach, a nutritionist, a former Matilda, an A-League coach and myself all in one room talking junior development. It was an absolutely incredible and informative night. I particularly liked being able to focus my talk on the challenges of professional football instead of the highlights. All too often we hear about the glamorous side of professional sport and while it definitely has it’s perks, for most it’s a long and windy road.

Kicking off Term 3 was a fantastic and free workshop for all players that came to Creating Athletes held by former A-League coach and Socceroos Analyst Luciano Trani. Luc is an extremely passionate and knowledgeable coach whom I had the pleasure of working under at Adelaide United and our players just gravitated to his energy. What a priceless experience for them.

And while most of my time is spent either with the CFA kids (or my own), 2017 saw me coach the Edge Hill U12 side with my brother and fellow CFA Coach Angelo in the local competition. And while the boys took home the trophy after working very hard at training all season, ultimately what was most important is seeing them execute a fantastic passing style of football that will give them, as footballers, longevity in the game. They sacrificed and worked hard to achieve this and I couldn’t be prouder.

Most recently I was in Newcastle for the PFA Awards, honouring the greatest in the game at the moment, with a huge focus on our current Matilda superstars. It’s always great to touch base with old football friends and discuss the future of the game in Australia. There is so much valuable discussion going on how to improve our juniors and it was great to meet with some influential football minds about how we can do our part for the betterment of the next generation.

What’s coming

The off-season at CFA is of course far from a football break. Our Rep U12’s head to Osaka to compete in the Yanmar Futures Cup late this month – the most prestigious U12’s tournament in Asia. Our academy will make history by being Queensland first ever team competing, joining Sydney academy Futboltec in their second year. CFA will come up against the very best in Asia, with teams from the J-League, K-League and other elite academies all vying for the silverware.

FNQ Fives kicks off for it’s third year running and it starts on the 13th of this month. We have a record number of players and teams this year so the atmosphere at Tiger Park is going to be better than ever. Plus – five-a-side a fantastic way to hone those technical and decision making skills in a small-sided tight environment, perfect for off-season football.

In December we’ll take our littlest elite squad to Sydney for the first time – the U10’s – who will join the U11’s in the Rizzo Invitational tournament, held by one of Australia’s biggest football academies NRIFA. Nick and some of his players are currently in England playing against Premier League academies so as usual the tournament will pose a big challenge to our players.

In January I’ll be bringing yet another superstar of football to guest coach CFA for another exclusive clinic and we’ll reveal the name once we lock in the dates.

Our coaches

Caravella Football AcademyWe take pride in the fact that our coaches have all been at CFA since Day 1, and all are true football people. Andre, Crios and Angelo have all been loyal mainstays at the academy and are officially part of the furniture. Tomorrow we welcome a new coach and one we know will fit in perfectly – Jason Haydon, who we’ll reveal more of this week.

And so, Term 4 kicks off tomorrow

As always, we train on Public Holidays and so we’ll see you all tomorrow at CFA for another fantastic term. I am – shock – spending a few weeks away from the academy this term to do my B-Licence in Canberra so I can be ready for my A-Licence in June. We also have three important announcements to make over the next few weeks which will change the future of our players at CFA.

And while it all adds to the hectic nature of the end of 2017, when it comes to football, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Shout outs

To our major partner, Cairns Total Physio for their continued support of our academy. Don’t forget, all CFA players get a members discount at CTP so make sure to mention us when you book.

To our Japan trip major sponsor, MIS Building Group , for their generous donation that goes 100% to our talented players as well as our other many sponsors that helped made this trip happen.

Yours in football
Zenon Caravella

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