DUBAI // Andrea Borg made public the news and instantly his social media accounts lit up.
The Dubai-based Maltese footballer had just signed a trainee scholarship with Peterborough United, the third-tier English club, and immediately set about informing whomever he could.
“As soon as I signed I called all my friends, put it on Facebook and posted the picture on Instagram,” Andrea, 16, says, having agreed the deal earlier this month. “I started getting loads of friends requests from random people, who I actually don’t know. Everyone. From Peterborough, Dubai, Malta. Loads of replies saying well done.”
• See also: Dubai-based teenager joins England's Peterborough United
Well, it was kind of a big deal. Andrea, a fleet-footed attacking midfielder who has lived in Dubai since he was eight, is one of a select few to make the transition from developmental football in the UAE to a professional English club, and so the attention is merited.
He first went to Peterborough in January to undergo a one-week trial, but impressed so much that he was asked to stay another week. Admirers included Jack Collison, the recently retired former West Ham United midfielder, whois now youth team manager at Peterborough.
Once back in Dubai, Andrea received news that Peterborough wanted him to return for what he expected to be another trial. So the youngster, currently preparing to sit his GCSEs at Gems Wellington, organised the trip with his father, Etienne, for the Easter holidays and the two set off again.
However, as soon as they arrived at Peterborough, the scholarship documents were ready and Andrea promptly signed a two-year contract. Or, at least his chaperone did.
“Dad had to sign the papers because I’m under age,” Andrea says. “He was so excited, shocked as well, because he didn’t expect the contract to be on the table. I’d no clue I was going to sign in Easter.
“It made me so proud, so proud in myself and so happy for my family.”
Originally from Malta, Andrea’s family there cried when they heard the news. Football is in the blood: Etienne was a youth player with the Malta national team, while his father-in-law was a respected figure in the game in his homeland.
When the Borgs relocated to Dubai, Andrea and his older brother, Miguel, joined the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence to work with certified coach Chris Brown. Andrea has remained under Brown’s tutelage at the Englishman’s It’s Just Football academy ever since, training Sundays and Tuesdays and learning the trade that helped earn the move to Peterborough.
“Chris and It’s Just Football have been my road to my success so far,” Andrea says. “It’s made me the player I am today. Chris has been my mentor, coach and friend for the past seven years.
“When I went to Peterborough I knew already what to do, because Chris taught me how to do those things as a kid, so it came naturally to me.”
Brown is rightfully credited for the role he played in Andrea’s development, but he insists his star pupil’s determination and dedication comes from within.
“Andrea has always been the standout player in his age group and always played above himself, playing Under 18s when he’s Under 16s,” Brown says. “And he shines in that. He’s always one of the best players, naturally talented but also takes things on board and is extremely focused and driven.”
Andrea’s diminutive pace is a prominent attribute – he holds the 100 metres record for UAE schools, at 11.3 seconds – but with his low centre of gravity and ability to beat an opponent, he is typically centre of attention, too.
Understandably, Andrea, who models his game on Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta, is keen to keep the spotlight on him. He leaves for Peterborough on June 19, two days after completing his exams, then begins pre-season just before the end of the month.
He will stay in digs with the other youth trainees, most of whom he has kept in touch with since signing. The days span 9am to 10pm and are regimented: breakfast, training, lunch, tuition, training, dinner, home, then lights out and bed.
There are chores, too, such as cleaning the digs and even the first-team players’ boots. It represents the first time Borg has spent any significant time away from home, yet he cannot wait.
“I think I’ll be fine,” he says. “Because I’m going there for a purpose.”
Football has long been his purpose. Unlike most teenagers, Andrea controls what he eats, sometimes sacrifices socialising to prepare for a match and even urged his dad to hire a personal trainer so he could develop his speed, agility and core strength.
“We didn’t have to push him that hard, even from very young when he was at home he always had a ball, running around the house and I was ‘stop, stop, stop’,” Etienne says. “It’s like a part of him.
“We’ve had good feedback from Peterborough. They take scholars for a reason, especially foreign players, because they think they can make it to the senior team. They also saw that he’s disciplined.
“So it’s not just football ability, they look at the person. Andrea’s going away from his family, into a new atmosphere, a new environment, so Peterborough are taking a risk – but it’s a calculated risk.”
Andrea has done his own calculations and would like to impress once more to secure a professional contract, something he understands will be difficult. It can happen only once he turns 17, on November 12, or further into his scholarship, but whatever lies ahead during the next two years he is determined to make the most of it.
“I’ll try my hardest, even harder than the others,” says Borg, who has also spent time at England’s Crewe Alexandra and with the Malta age-group team. “My objective is to make my coaches, Kieran Scarff and Jack Collison, proud because they deserve it, especially after I learned how dedicated they are.
“And second, it’s to be part of the Peterborough senior team and play at the Abax Stadium. My dream is to be part of the success story of Peterborough being promoted to the higher divisions. And maybe, in future, play in the Premier League.”