We were invited by Nike to St George's Park National Football Centre, home of the England teams and the Nike Academy to kit up in Nike's latest products, chat to the Academy players and to experience the training programme the players undertake.

If the English national team are to challenge on the world stage, the state-of-the-art St. George’s Park complex will no doubt be the central part in any future success. As we arrived in Burton-Upon-Trent, we caught the second half of the England U16 vs Belgium U16 match being played on an immaculate pitch worthy of a World Cup final. The game went to penalties, but to emphasise the change in approach to English coaching, each player took a spot kick instead of the standard five. Belgium though left the field as the eventual victors.

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The facilities at St. George’s Park are exceptional, but it’s the buzz around the vast complex that really captures the passion and directional change in English football. St. George’s Park is the epicentre of football, a central hub that brings the whole country together. The crowd watching the England youngsters is full of coaching staff in professional club attire from Premier League to League Two.

In amongst the crowd was England U21 coach Gareth Southgate who we caught up with for a chat later that evening. "When I was a kid at Crystal Palace we had three pitches and a wooden hut that we trained in with a bench press and the showers were cold and the pitch was a mud heap for most of the year" the ex-England defender tell us.

“The way that the world of football has changed in terms of investment and facilities is staggering. When I played for England we didn't have a home but now there's a feel that you're part of something, St George's Park has become a real hub, this isn't just a home for England, it's something that we want everyone in English football to belong to and be a part of. Everything you need as a coach and as a player is here. We've got U16 to U21, Ladies team and the Senior Team, there's a real Club England feel. Sort of in the same was as Team GB supported each other in the Olympics? "Exactly", Southgate replies.

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With an eventful day lined-up with the Nike Academy in the back of our minds and a new-found, patriotic optimism for English football we call it a night and head for the on site hotel. The following morning, after regretting going to town on the full English breakfast whilst scores of finely tuned athletes opted for fresh fruit, we headed up to meet the Nike Academy lads who had just had their pre-match meeting ahead of a trip to Nottingham Forest.

There's a sense of team spirit amongst the boys, they're all in the same position, playing for a career and while personal goals remain the priority they have to work together to achieve that overall aim of turning pro. Bilal Sayoud, a 17-year-old winger was preparing for his first game back after a two-week trial at Crystal Palace "I was playing locally until I was 12 when I got signed by Tottenham, but I got released when they were offering scholarships. I then joined a scheme where I could play football and do my A-levels and was then recommended to come to the Nike Academy trials. I didn't win The Chance but I got invited back two months later."

"It's not a league for us at the Nike Academy but we treat it that way, the only difference between us and a pro-club is that they've got a contract and we haven't, but playing for an opportunity is good preparation for when you do get a trial with a pro club. You can't go into a game half-hearted because you want to get that contract, it's more pressure than a league game, the stakes are higher than just three points." 

With thoughts drifting to our own session with the Nike Academy coaches later we look to Bilal for reassurance that they'll go easy on us. "They will get into you, you're in trouble" cheers mate. "It's crazy training here though, we've got better facilities than every pro club, I'm really privileged to be here. The coaching has to be hard work, we train harder than most pro clubs, we have to be ready to go pro and the Nike Academy gets you ready for that transition, it's intense but it has to be."

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With Bilal and the rest of the lads boarding the coach to Nottingham we take a tour of St George's Park to get a feel of the environment the Nike Academy work in. A full sized indoor 3G pitch houses an UEFA A License session opposite an exact replica of the Wembley playing surface. When you get told the pitch gets hoovered after every game, you know you're dealing with something pretty special.

We're lead through the complex to the changing rooms where we get kitted up in the latest Nike training wear and Tiempo V boots. A quick chat with a Nike EKIN (because he knows Nike back to front) about the new Ordem II match ball follows a strategic introduction with Eddy, a Nike Academy coach. Eddy tells us what he expects from us for the session and underlines the importance of shape, hunting the ball in packs and attacking at pace.

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We head out to the Gordon Banks pitch for a warm up and series of drills centered around the focus of each Nike boot silo. Ending on the shooting drill we hammer a right footed drive onto pitch 3 as one of the Academy youngster gives us a disapproving glance before reluctantly running after it. "Bobbly pitch Eddy..." "No chance", he replies. He's right, it's perfection. Must have been the wind then.

After lunch we change for the gym session with one of the Nike Academy fitness coaches, a man who can effortlessly do more chin-ups than Ronaldo can do keepy ups. Nike Free 5.0's on feet, we take part in an hour long session based on tempo. Bilal was right, this was hard work. If you're going to get beasted you may as well do it over-looking the best training ground in world football, although that did little to soften the pain of the session.

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The Hydrotherapy session was up next, a facility which the Academy players use after a game to aid recovery. We're offered two choices, the freezing cold pool for 8 minutes then 8 minutes in the hot tub or 2 minute intervals in each. We look to Kamal, a Nike Academy player perched on the last step of the cold pool who tells us; "Not 8 minutes, I can't feel my legs". We take his advice, it's cold, seriously cold, a certain part of the anatomy takes feels the full force of the plunge but you can feel the reward afterwards in your legs.

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There's no better place to learn your trade in the game than at St George's Park and the Nike Academy more than appreciate that. The professionalism surrounding the entire Nike Academy programme is exceptional, these talented young players are in the best possible hands with the coaches at the helm who install a confidence, maturity and an overall education into the lads to help them find their alternative route into professional football. As for us, has anyone got a new pair of hamstrings we can have?

View our full photo album of the Nike Academy at St George's Park day on Facebook here.