The art of becoming a professional footballer isn’t just 90 minutes a week on the pitch but all encompassing, and the future MK Dons stars are getting to learn that first hand.
This Sunday, MK Dons will play Barcelona at stadium:mk as academy takes on academy in a showcase of young talent.
The Spanish giants are synonymous with big-name players, but crucially, developing them through their youth system and into the first team.
MK Dons too are building something of a portfolio of big names from their academy - Brendan Galloway (Everton) and Dele Alli (Spurs) have played in the Premier League, George Williams is a Welsh international while Sam Baldock could get his hands on the Championship title for Brighton.
The U15s have been primed for their game against Barcelona, approaching it exactly like the Dons first team.
From video analysis sessions, gym sessions and even getting to grips with media training, the young players are getting their first taste of life as a Championship footballer.
While not every player in the U15s will make it into the Dons first team, Edu Rubio, Head of Academy Coaching at stadium:mk, believes teaching the boys how to be a professional will help them in all walks of life.
“This is the life of a professional player,” he said. “We try to make sure the boys get used to understanding what it is like to be a professional.
“I don’t want them to play football like the first team, in terms of fighting for the score. At this stage, we’re concentrating on staying true to our identity.
“Things like video analysis, using the gym and the media workshops are fundamental.
“Football is played everywhere: when you’re in the changing room, talking to your mates, in a video analysis session, watching the first team, in training, in games, everywhere. They have to embrace it everywhere.
“Everyone plays a big role in the development of young players, not just the coaches. Every department is fundamental.
“We work for the players, not the other way around.
“If they don’t all go on to become professional players, all these lessons are still valid.
“We educate them, and they can take our ethos and values into other avenues in their life.”
Last Saturday against Ipswich, manager Karl Robinson named three academy products his substitutes bench, with 18-year-old Connor Furlong making his debut late in the day, replacing Alex Revell.
Furlong joins the long list of players handed debuts by Robinson, and his commitment to young talent is a huge encouragement not just to the academy players, but also Rubio and his coaches.
He said: “The good thing about MK Dons is the clear connection between the academy and the first team.
“The gaffer has implemented his vision here. His influence is very important, but it’s a club thing too, much more than just one man.
“The beauty of MK Dons is how they’ve found this idea, and they’ve been working on it for a decade now.
“It’s crucial for us as developers. You can do so much in the academy, but ultimately they need opportunities and that has to come from the first team.
“The gaffer embraces young players, and it’s important that we continue to show the young players that pathway.”
Tickets for Sunday’s game are on sale now, offering Dons fans the chance to see the future stars of both clubs in action on the big stage.
He said: “These players could arguably be, in a few years, in the first team.
“Both sides have that clear pathway, so we might see players who will start in the Euros or a World Cup in 10 years’ time.
“It’s very important for us. It’s arguably one of the best academies in the world, but it’s just another thing we’re doing in the development of these players.
“We’ve played Chelsea and we’ve played Manchester United, so we’re preparing them for the end game which is knocking on the gaffer’s door to get a first team opportunity.”
>> Tickets for Sunday’s game, kicking off at midday, are available for £5 for adults and £1 for concessions.