Around 40 South Melbourne Football Club (SMFC) players have spent two weeks training and playing with Laliga, national and local teams in Spain.

The SMFC Spanish Tour was the second for the Oceania Club of the Century, but a first to the town of Oviedo, base of Laliga’s Real Oviedo FC.

Cesar Martin at Real Oviedo A SMFC training session. Photo: Sergio Reyes

“We wanted the kids to experience football at the highest level … to be exposed to Spanish tactics which are the best in the world, said SMFC Board Member and Co-Director of Junior Football, Tass Roufos from Madrid while on the tour.

The Spanish entourage included SMFC coaches including Assistant Technical Director and U15 NPL Head Coach Michael Zakoski, and Miniroos coach Costas Saristavros, parents and grandparents.

South Melbourne vs San Claudio. Photo: Sergio Reyes

The U13, 14, 15 and 16 players trained with Spanish coaches in Madrid and Oviedo with football greats such Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero and Spanish footballer Cesar Martin watching on from the sidelines.

The SMFC players versed their respective age groups from Rayo Vallecano (Laliga 1), Real Oviedo (Laliga 2) and 3rd division teams UD (Union Deportiva) San Claudio FC and Urraca FC.

James Galanis and son Astin at Real Oviedo training. Photo: Sergio Reyes

The tour was organised by SMFC in conjunction with Australian former SMFC player, James Galanis.

Australian-born Galanis lives in the U.S, but travels to Spain as a consultant and scout to Spanish clubs through his own American-based soccer school, Universal Soccer Academy. He also travels to Spain to watch his son Astin who is part of Real Oviedo’s Men’s C team.

South Melbourne players at a training session at Rayo Vallecano. Photo: Sergio Reyes

“Each time a team travels to Spain, they get a sense of what it’s really like to play at the highest level,” said Galanis from Oviedo.

“This gives them a strong vision of what is required to play in Europe.

SMFC coaches Costas Saristavros (2nd from left) and Michael Zakoski. Photo: Sergio Reyes

“Beings exposed to Spanish football and playing against Spanish teams can only help improve tactical intelligence, Galanis said.

“Spanish teams tend to excel in possession-based football. Maintaining possession, controlling the tempo and breaking down the defensive lines are all key areas of modern football.

Game Day warm up at Urraca FC. Photo: Sergio Reyes

“I’m confident that all players that took part in the tour will go back to Melbourne with a better understanding of the game, and more motivated to improve their own game.”

In addition to training and playing, the entourage attended the incredibly moving Real Oviedo comeback game of former Arsenal, Villa Real and Spain national team player, Santi Carzola.

Game Day action at Urraca FC. Photo: Sergio Reyes

“It was an amazing atmosphere,” one of the tour parent’s commenting from Madrid.

“The whole stadium erupted when he (Carzola) came on.

Game Day at San Cláudio. Photo: Sergio Reyes

“I’ve never experienced anything like it.”

Visits to Estadio Bernabéu and Atheltico Madrid were also part of the 12-day tour.

SMFC Game Day v San Cláudio. Photo: Sergio Reyes

“It was like having soccer tapas,” said another tour parent.

“So much colour and adventure, it had a bit of everything.

SMFC_James Galanis gives a pep talk with a young player at the San Cláudio match. Photo: Sergio Reyes

“The kids learned and gained so much playing and watching Spanish soccer.

“They grew as people and as players in such a short while because the experience was so intense and immersive.

Touring Santiago Bernabeu stadium. Photo: Sergio Reyes

“The friendships, the bonds with each other and the memories will remain with them forever.

“The experience inspired them … and us.”

* Stella Tzobanakis is a contributing journalist and SMFC Spain Tour parent