Jan 15 2010 By Tim Edwards
A FOOTBALL mad teenager from Wembley has beaten thousands of others from across the UK and Ireland to vie for an amazing chance to land a contract with Italian giants Inter Milan.
Anthony O’Connor battled his way through a series of heats as the search for Football’s Next Star on Sky One was whittled down from more than 7,000 to the final 10.
Mentored in the TV programme by former Liverpool, Spurs and England star Jamie Redknapp, the 10 spent a month in Italy where they were put under scrutiny at the Italian champions’ renowned Interello academy. Redknapp, along with Inter youth coaches Marco Monti and Paulo Migliavacca, assessed their skills and the one who failed to impress each week was eliminated.
Filming of the show was completed late last year and the second episode of the seven part series was aired on Sunday.
O’Connor, from Sudbury Town, is sworn to secrecy as to whether he is the one who has landed a season’s contract with Jose Mourinho’s side but described the experience as ‘amazing’. He and the nine other finalists lived in a luxury villa beside Lake Como, a lifestyle which gave them a taste for the big time.
"We had such a good time over there," said the 16-year-old. "We really got a taste to see what the life of a professional footballer is like, although it was hard to play football in front of the cameras until we got used to them being around.
"The facilities were brilliant and it was interesting to see how different the Italian game is from England. You can’t really pass it around or hold the ball up and it is a lot more intense.
"The whole experience really boosted my ambition to be a footballer."
As a result of making it to ‘boot camp’, O’Connor, a striker for Hillingdon Borough U18s, fell behind on his studies and had to enlist a home tutor to help him catch up on his maths.
He is taking A-levels in media, maths and business at the Cardinal Wiseman School, in Ealing, and threw a curveball by revealing his preferred career if football falls through.
"I’d like to be a pilot if I can’t be a footballer," he added. "I used to hate flying but something just changed in me one day and now I’m fascinated by it."
Whether or not a memorable season playing for the Nerazzurri in Serie A awaits him, O’Connor says he already has plenty of great memories from the experience including meeting Inter boss Mourinho and witnessing the usually reticent Redknapp lose his cool over a game of table tennis.
"Jamie was really good to us and was always giving us advice and tips both on and off camera," he added. "But one time Jamie was playing table tennis with one of the other lads and he took a hammering in every game, so he smashed the bat he had brought over with him."
And what did he make of his encounter with the ‘special one’?
He added: "Jose was brilliant but he kept on calling me Ashley Cole because I was wearing earrings. As a Manchester United fan I asked him whether he was going to take over from Sir Alex Ferguson in the future but he was having none of it."
Football’s Next Star is on Sky One on Sunday at 8pm.