They have conquered the football world, now AC Milan are tackling rugby-mad New Zealand.
One of the world's most famous and successful football clubs will hold junior training camps in Wellington and Auckland in July next year, adding to an international network they say involves 150,000 children from 35 countries.
The week-long camps will cost about $700 for each child, but the potential prize is priceless, with the two most talented Kiwi kids flown to Italy to meet their heroes and participate in youth team training and games.
"I know the culture here is rugby and, although a lot of kids like soccer, they go to rugby because they cannot get further in soccer," said Raffaele Maiorano, an official licensed agent for Milan Junior Camp.
"We want to change that idea and philosophy to say, ‘OK, if you're good at soccer, you can continue and become a professional player'."
Maiorano left New Zealand yesterday after a week-long visit to inspect infrastructure and survey the sporting landscape.
He signed a memorandum of understanding with Lallit Rajpal, the strategic development manager for the Christian Cullen Management Group.
The deal needs to be formally approved by Milan's board, but Maiorano said it was a fait accompli.
A five-year plan will be firmed up, depending on the success of next year's inaugural camps during the July school holidays.
Maiorano said some of Milan and Italian football's biggest names were likely to be in tow. "We try to bring the old players from AC Milan like [Franco] Baresi, [Marco] Materazzi, [Gennaro] Gattuso, that can maybe come here, to open the first camp here in Wellington."
The camps will be open entry to boys and girls aged 6-15, and the price includes official Milan kit, a football and meals during the week.
The aim is to attract up to 150-200 kids, and four Milan junior coaches will fly in to pass on their knowledge.
Former All Whites coach Mick Waitt and former Liverpool goalkeeper Chris Pile will act as coaching co-ordinators, overseeing 10 New Zealand coaches who will be schooled in Milan's methods. Mornings will involve technical training, with games in the afternoon.
All going well, Maiorano said Milan might set up a permanent academy in New Zealand.
"The AC Milan brand is known for success and quality all over the world. We know how to give the kids the right message on how to become a professional soccer player, by coaching the right way. It's a big opportunity for us to come to New Zealand and see the quality of the young players."
The second most successful club in world football in terms of international trophies, with 18 Uefa and Fifa titles.
Known as the Rossoneri, or red and blacks, they are owned by controversial former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
Current star players include Mario Balotelli, Robinho and Kaka.
- The Dominion Post
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