In early January 2021, ESI’s U18 team captain Mathew Drinkhouse headed to Cannes, France to join the Michel Hidalgo International Football Academy. Coach Stéphane Auvray accompanied Mathew Drinkhouse to France to help him settle in and embark on his new journey.

“I was always looking for something in France since we went over there (3 times for Mathew). I have been playing in the French system for 7 years with Stéphane and while it is a different country with better players, the training and playing styles are the same,” Mathew said. “This seemed like a really good opportunity and experience."

The program is named after its founder, the late Michel Hidalgo, a football legend in France, who made a career playing for Stade de Reims and AS Monaco. He led France to an international title, the European Championship, in 1984. 

Mr Lopez (Local club president),
Stéphane Auvray, Laurence Potier (president Academie Hidalgo), and Academy head coach.

Gateway to the Pros

Mathew will live in Cannes for 5 months, with the initial expectation that he will return at the end of May 2021. He will be immersed culturally, learn to speak French more fluently, and play with a partner club.

"In partnership with AS Cannes, USCBO Cannes, ES Cannet-Rocheville and other selected football clubs, the Academy is the gateway to high-level football," Stéphane Auvray said. "Having the opportunity to be immersed in a new culture, learning French and additionally playing soccer with a prestigious club like AS Cannes is the perfect combination for talented players like Mathew. "

The Academy prepares individual programs, personalized performance monitoring, and physical preparation in the morning; French classes or school curriculum, evening football training and weekend matches with the club.

Mathew Signs With AS Cannes

In his few short weeks at the Academy, Mathew had the opportunity to experience a trial with AS Cannes and signed with the team.

"It is a very renown club in France, mostly known for the quality of its player development," Stéphane noted. "Zinedine Zidane or Patrick Vieira for example went through the AS Cannes developmental program. The U17’s play at the highest regional level, and the U19’s at the highest national level."

While living at the Academy and attending French classes and fulfilling his individualized programs, Mathew will integrate AS Cannes evening training sessions and will play league games with the club. 

Mathew and AS Cannes head coach

Mathew and the Academy players.

The Academy and partnering club, AS Cannes take a holistic approach to player development by offering training and games with the club and official tryouts with professional clubs. There is also a focus on mental and tactical development with lectures and even refereeing courses to ensure that the player is well-rounded and comprehensively understands all aspects of the game.

Already Stéphane has received great feedback on Mathew's soccer performance, maturity, mindset and attitude. 

"Both the Academy and AS Cannes' coach have said positive things about Mathew's impact so far," Stéphane said."They highlighted his positive attitude, focused mindset and maturity - that these are adding value to the the Academy. In addition, the AS Cannes coach has said Mathew is strong technically, has very good game understanding, and registers and applies feedback quickly."

Mathew is grateful for how much Stéphane has helped him in pursuing his soccer goals.

“I definitely wouldn’t be having this opportunity if not for Stéphane,” Mathew said. “If you are someone who really wants it, if you apply yourself, then Stéphane will help make it happen for you.”

Question & Answer 
with Mathew Drinkhouse

Do you remember when and why you joined ESI?

I joined early in fifth grade. I joined because at first we did small group sessions and even just once or twice a week with small group I felt like I was really improving. The sessions were much better then my regular team sessions. I knew Stéphane had so much experience in soccer and great knowledge - and I just knew it would benefit me the most if I joined.

What position were you playing, and did you switch at ESI?

I played every position growing up and now I'm a center midfielder.

What is different about Stéphane’s training/approach (technical, tactical, athletic, mental..)?

Stéphane’s training is different because it’s all based on the player's individual qualities and how we apply them in the game to help the team. This is so different because many American clubs just put a player at a position best fit for the team. Stéphane instead evaluates every quality like strengths, weaknesses, presence on the field etc. for each player. I realize now it is better to do it Stéphane's way because it sets us up to go to a club at a higher level. With this approach you will already be one step ahead of the average team player because you worked on personal qualities then have applied them into another team. Because of my experiences I can say integrating with another team is much easier and smoother when your confident with yourself - which is what Stéphane always emphasized. Also, training with him at ESI for so long grew my game mentality so much - that I’m always looking to do better and focus on my personal improvement - instead of focusing on other players and constantly comparing myself with them.

You have been captain for several years now. Did you expect it? Did it help/force you to get out of your comfort zone?

In some way I did expect it because I was very communicative and was confident I could lead the team. However, it definitely made me step out of my comfort zone because I had to make sure my whole team was doing their part on the field. Being captain was very good for me because it helped me understand the game so much more. I had to know when and where the players had to be.

Taking on this responsibility also helped me because as a Center Midfielder I must know where players are at all times. So just by learning this, we could get out of pressure very quick because I generally knew exactly where the player was once we got the ball. The technique that Stéphane emphasizes along with the technique drills made the execution in games very natural.

Would you describe yourself as an overall complete player?

Obviously I have a ton of room to improve, however, I would say I am because the constant on the field due to the elaborate training sessions provided through Stéphane. The skills, technique and mental aspects learned in training were always helpful for me in developing my skills in all aspects of the game.

How did you join the program?

I was already doing small group sessions with Stéphane to help my technique and decision making and I knew if I wanted to pursue soccer this would be the next step for me. I really felt ESI was where I needed to be even at a very young age.

Do you feel that ESI prepared you well? For example, do you face situations that you feel you can handle because Stéphane put an emphasis on them at training.

Yes, I feel very well prepared. Especially because every single session is familiar to me because I had previously done very similar sessions at ESI. Stéphane always expects 100% effort! Even if we make mistakes we were encouraged to keep trying and to be focused. Most of all we were taught to just keep working at high intensity. High intensity was a familiar and consistent emphasis from Stéphane.

What are you looking forward to with your new program?

I'm looking forward to the experience, playing with a club in France, and gaining insight and understanding on how well I am prepared to play against people from all over the world.

KC players who want to join programs like SKC, FC Barcelona residential program, or make the US Youth Futsal National Teams always come to Stéphane. From your personal experience could you explain why?

They do because they know he has an eye for finding their strong points and their weaknesses and will help them work on them. He helps the player develop into a complete soccer player ready for all situations - as a player who wants to excel to professional rankings - you can’t find the training he provides anywhere else. Even now in France - yes, there are good players - but I still find his sessions enriching and in some instances more beneficial.

What is the most important lessons you have learned from Stéphane?

The most important lesson I learned from Stéphane was to be a very faithful person. Everything in life happens for a reason we must be patient.

Do you miss your family?

Yes, I miss my family a lot mostly on the days we have off, but I know why I’m here and where I want to go so it’s a constant motivation.