If everything goes well, 15-year-old Phillip Tran’s diet might soon include a healthy helping of fish and chips.
The Lakeside High School freshman soccer player recently spent nine days in London as a guest of the West Ham United Academy.
“West Ham United is one of the premier academies – academy being development programs – probably in the whole country if not Europe,” said Sachin Patel, Tran’s former Augusta Arsenal coach.
If accepted, it might mean a sudden lifestyle change for Tran and his family, as he would have to move to England to go to school and train.
Would he hesitate?
“I don’t think so,” Tran said. “I think I would definitely go.”
Tran’s mother, Thao, who accompanied him on the trip, said that if he is accepted, either she or his father will have to move to London with him and get a job there. The other would stay at home with their other three children, two of whom will be heading to college next year.
“As a family, we all hope that he’ll get accepted by the Academy,” Thao wrote in an e-mail. “But at the same time, being a mom, I’m nervous of what’s going to happen to my family if he does.”
West Ham United International Academy Partnership Development Manager Mike Kelleher is based in Knoxville, Tenn. He oversees camps and manages the administration of sending players to London. He stressed that the trip was not a tryout, because that would be breaking English and European law.
“We select a group who we invite to an academy experience in London, which is what Phillip was on,” Kelleher said.
“The aim of the academy is to develop a professional soccer player. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s why the club funds the academy.”
But just having the experience could be a stepping-stone to a dream Tran’s had for a long time.
“Ever since I was a little kid, about 5, I always wanted to play professionally,” Tran said.
The trip to London was the third for Tran, whose transatlantic soccer odyssey started in the summer of 2008, after Tran was chosen from a West Ham Elite Player camp in Atlanta. Patel, who grew up close to West Ham, pushed him to attend. That led to his first trip in March 2009.
“I was asked by their scouts to forward any players I thought would be a good fit,” Patel said. “At the time, he was one of probably two players in the whole club that I thought would go there and do something and he showed well. ... These opportunities don’t come about but once in a career.”
Tran was invited back for 10 days in 2010, but suffered a back injury just before the trip and did not perform up to his potential, his mother said. Patel thinks the injury made all the difference in the world.
“Unfortunately for him, it was right at the time when he probably would have been signed,” Patel said.
Last summer, Tran attended another West Ham camp in Rome, Ga., and was invited back again.
After visits to sports medicine specialists and chiropractors for about two years, Phillip’s back got better, Thao wrote.
There were some differences from the other Tran overseas visits.
“There were many more people this time (about 15 in his age group) and we didn’t get to train with the academy this year,” Tran said. “The last couple years we would train with the real academy players, and if you were good enough, you’d play in a league game with them.”
The training included practices, scrimmages and a game against the academy players, which they lost 3-0. They also got to attend a West Ham United game.
Tran enjoyed his trip back to London for both the soccer and the sightseeing.
“We got to go on the London Eye and see the whole city,” he said. “We saw the Wembley Stadium. That was pretty fun, too.”