J'can youths make mark in Austria

Sunday, September 25, 2011

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CRAIG Butler and four members of his Phoenix All Star Football Academy are making their mark at Austrian club USK Anif.

Butler, 43, a former Jamaica College Manning Cup player who heads the local Phoenix Academy, is head of player development at Anif, while youngsters — son, Kyle Butler, Kevaugn Atkinson, Leon Bailey and Romario McKnight — are all stamping their authority on the Austrian Bundesliga 2 outfit.

Butlers said his pioneering move into Austria next door footballing powerhouse Germany is to provide a bridge and window of opportunity for Jamaicans players.

"The aim is to develop the players and give them an opportunity out of Jamaica. This has been 10 years in the making when these boys were six years old," Butler revealed via a Skype interview on the Internet recently.

"We got a lot of support from corporate Jamaica and we got the opportunity to come and train and when they saw the talent, all the top clubs wanted them, including Rapid Vienna," he added.

"This is just to show how talented our Jamaicans are... sustained development is very important, and that is what we lack," said Butler, whose Phoenix Academy has approximately 260 young players.

"We don't lack it in track and field where we develop Asafa Powell, Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake; we lack it in football," Butler pointed out.

"I had these boys from they were young and they are the pioneers that came first and are signed by Anif, which is owned by Red Bull," said Butler.

Former Calabar player Kevaughn Atkinson, 16, is the club's leading goalscorer and the league leader with seven goals to date. The club has won five matches and lost twice from seven outings to be second in the standing.

Butler's son, Kyle 13, formerly of St George's College, is the current captain of Anif's Under-15 team, while Leon Bailey, 14, formerly of Kingston College, is the top scorer in Under-15 league with seven goals.

Another Calabar student, Romario McKnight, is currently on a two-week's trial stint, having just joined up with the team.

Butler said his aim is to have at least 20 players in the European circuit from a tender age, with the bigger picture being producing quality players for the national setup.

"My role really is to supply the national team with disciplined players that are exposed and trained internationally in football so when they get called to the national team we are bringing back players way above the normal standard currently in Jamaica.

"The major difference is not the talent, but the systems and the sustain development that is applied. When I saw what Austria is about, it is the perfect stepping stone and it is right beside Germany," he noted.

He mentioned footballing powerhouse Germany and Carsen Jancker, the former Bayern Munich and Germany striker, now a trainer at top Austrian club Rapid Vienna, who was impressed with Atkinson and wants him to join the club.

"That is the level of football that they are exposed to. Right now they are in a position where they are being taught German and are going to one of the top schools in the country — a sports model school where they take gifted athletes and prepare them," he informed.

"When we came here and said 'Jamaica', the first thing they said was, 'Bob Marley and Usain Bolt'. Now they respect us for our football. When they look and see their first team topscorer is a 16-year-old Jamaican....".

"What we're doing here is really for the country and we have to do what we have to do," concluded Butler.

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