Everything started with an amazing trip to Pyongyang and ended with a North Korean win in the U-16s Asian Cup

All eyes are on North Korea at the moment. Documentaries, news reports, articles… The mysterious country that is isolated to the rest of the world is attracting more and more people that are interested in discovering the reality of hidden nation and it’s enigmatic people. This is something that Fundación Marcet has had the privilege of witnessing first hand thanks to a historic project that hasn’t taken long to capture the attention of main media outlets in Spain and internationally.

The latest outlet to get in touch was Cadena COPE, who have just had a long and captivating conversation with José Ignacio Marcet about the adventure that the 18 North Korean kids lived when they stayed in Barcelona for around a year to train at our football academy. A piece of sports history, also for humanity, that started with an amazing trip to Pyongyang and ended with North Korean wining the U-16s Asian Cup.

This is how Fundación Marcet’s president told it when speaking with the journalists that host El Partido de las Doce, that’s presented by Joseba Larrañaga and Victorio Duque. Alongside Marcet was José Martínez, who’s been at the academy for 10 years, that shared the dorms and training sessions with the North Korean team. Both realised how incredible the experience was and that it was full of curious anecdotes.

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“Everything started when the North Koreans did a “tour” all over Europe in search of the best academy for their young footballers to train at”, Marcet Told COPE. “In the end they chose Fundación, because they didn’t want a huge brand but to really learn how to dominate football. And this is how we ended up going to Pyongyang to select the 18 kids. It was amazing, it was a magnificent experience”.

The president of Fundación Marcet is one of the few privileged individuals that has been able to enter North Korea “without any restrictions”, a few words by the presenter of El Partido de las Doce. Something that Marcet told us in his own words “I think I’m the only Visitor that’s been able to freely explore the city. I got up in the morning and went footing around the streets. I continued to run and no one said anything to me. I saw the military doing their exercises, the citizens doing their day to day activities…”

El presidente José Ignacio Marcet y José Martínez en los estudios de la Cadena Cope de Barcelona.
The president José Ignacio Marcet and José Martínez speaking to the microphones of Cadena Cope, in Barcelona.

Pyongyang is like a movie set in Hollywood. There’s the true city and then there’s the city that they show to visitors”, says the president of Marcet. It’s a huge city with spectacular monuments and public buildings are similar to most buildings that can be found in European Capitals. But there’s a difference. The roads, they’re wide and empty. You only see military and official vehicles. Also, there weren’t any restaurants, there’s no TV, no advertising nor shops… Silence is the main character. The kids don’t even cry. It’s a ghost town. But we saw that the population was happy. We saw it in their smiles. They don’t have internet, no video games, no mobile phones… But you can tell they have a great bond between them.

“It’s was the most interesting, emotional and knowledgeable trip I’ve done”, declared Marcet. The president highlighted that, apart from the negative aspects that everyone knows, there are also “very positive things in North Korea”. For example, “the kids in North Korea surpass the rest of the world when it comes to their generosity, humaneness, humility, honesty, it is what happens when you’re not being swallowed up by modern technology and consumerism.

Marcet admits that in Pyongyang there was pressure to select specific players by certain parties, but he stressed to the supporters of the initiative that they didn’t want any kind of nepotism. “We had to stand firm against some of the most influential people, but in the end we were able to select the best”.

La expedición norcoreana de 18 niños que se formaron en la Academia de Alto Rendimiento Marcet.
The North Korean expedition in the Marcet Sports City, with the president and their trainers.

Once in Barcelona, not everything was easy. “The didn’t react well to making errors. They understood that the norm was to win. When they succeed in something, they aren’t praised for being talented but for the effort put in. Due to this we had to explain to them that errors were essential… and little by little they started to change the intensity put into hours pointless attitudes into something more productive.

In between other anecdotes, Fundación Marcet’s president told us about the first time the North Korean players bought their own football boots. “I think this changed history for North Korea. These kids, for the first time ever got the chance to choose and buy their own boots. Notably they didn’t choose them because of the brand, nor the most expensive but the were delighted with 35 euro boots. This is when they started to realise that they were individuals and they could make a name for themselves in the world of football. They started to change mentality, as they started to become more relaxed and quickly entered into Spanish cultural dynamics. The kids that arrived were completely different to the ones that left. I think we managed to leave a mark on a country that doesn’t easily take in foreign influence, North Korea.

 

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