Gerard Espinalt gets a scholarship to play and study in an American university.
Up until a few months ago, the US was not even on Gerard Espinalt’s horizon. “It was my last year of High School and my second year with the U-18’s,” recalls the goalkeeper. “I was about to graduate from school. But on the field, an injury had prevented me from playing with any kind of continuity. So I had to look for a university and a team. It was then that my coach from Marcet suggested going to the US.”
Question.- What appealed to you about that option?
Answer.- It seemed to combine studies and sport in the best way possible because in the US, teachers respect you as the athlete you are. I have never considered leaving football. It’s the sport I have loved since I was little and my dream is to play until my legs tell me to stop. That’s why I spoke to my parents about the possibility and ended up making a decision that I can say in retrospect, was completely the right one.
Q.- Without a doubt. You are already getting some recognition, such as the best defensive player in the NCCAA, as well as in the SAC…
A.- Yes, it happened in mid-October. Now I play in Oklahoma, for the Southwestern Christian University team, and right now we are first in the Sooner Athletic Conference (SAC). In the US there are basically two major leagues: the NCCAA and the NAIA, where my team is. We play in Division 1 and our conference is the SAC. The season lasts three months, then the first eight play a few local playoffs that allow you to access the national final phase, where you face the champions of all conferences.
Q.- What’s the football like in the US? Has anything surprised you?
A.- Yes, the level. It’s a lot higher than I expected. There are some really good players in my team and nearly all of us are international. I was expecting a very direct and physical style of play, but actually, they try to pass the ball a lot. It is physical, but there is also a lot of tactics and technique involved.
Q.- And the University?
A.- My day to day in Oklahoma City is very different from what my day to day in Barcelona was. I wake up at 07:00am and attend class from 08:00am to 12:00pm. All they require here is for you to work constantly. You don’t have to study as much as in Spain, but you are continuously given homework. I tend to do it after dinner because I train in the afternoon. Then, before going to bed, I try to go to the gym because we play two games a week and need to be as fit as possible. We also travel a lot and when we play at home we almost always sleep elsewhere.
“I COULD SAY THAT without football I wouldn’t be here. This sport was everything in this process”
Q.- Could you say you are in the US thanks to football?
A.- Without a doubt, in the US they give out two types of scholarships: academic and sports. As my grades weren’t excellent, I couldn’t opt for the first type, but I did get a sports scholarship. So, I could say that without football I wouldn’t be here. This sport was everything in this process.
Q.- Would you say it’s a very complicated process?
A.- It starts after exams, once your results have been certified. That’s when you send emails to coaches from different universities talking about yourself, your goals, your sporting qualities, etc. In this process it is essential to have a video-portfolio demonstrating some of your best plays. Then, if a coach is interested in your profile, they will get in touch and make an offer. In my case I could choose between different options.
Q.- You were in Marcet’s Professional Programme for four years. What did you learn?
A.– In Marcet I basically learned everything I know. Whether you like it or not, you end up getting better at everything. Having to train twice a day and combine it with studies forces you to develop a constant work discipline. That allowed me to mature a lot and I can say that I would not be the same person if I had not entered the Professional Program. My injury was also an important step to overcome. I went through the operating room twice and that helped me to understand that football consists of opportunities, and that when they give you one, you have to know how to take advantage of it. This is the greatest value I learned in Marcet.
Q.- What facets of the game did you improve most in?
A.- Where I progressed the most is in coordination and high balls. Also, I learned to adapt to each coach, and that has been very good for me. If I had to highlight something above all, I would mention the great work carried out by the sports psychologists. I used to have some concentration issues and would often get distracted. I worked a lot on that, as well as my performance which also improved dramatically. Now I can play a 90-minute game and maintain my concentration throughout. This is fundamental for taking advantage of the opportunities this sport offers you.