While listening to a speech by former Manchester United coach Sir Alex Ferguson at the National Soccer Coaches Association of America all-America luncheon on Saturday, Kaan Ilgin certainly perked up when he heard two words: Cristiano Ronaldo.
Cristiano Ronaldo, as in the Portuguese international, the Real Madrid striker and the 2014 FIFA Best Player in the World and the Mattituck High School senior’s favorite player.
Yeah, that Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ferguson’s words of wisdom came from when Ronaldo played for his English Premier League team as an 18-year-old in 2003.
“That boy was destined to be a great player because he worked harder than everyone else,” Ferguson told an estimated crowd of 1,500 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. “There was one day at the training ground on a Friday, pouring rain. He was on the artificial turf … I look at my window. Cristiano is training. He was so determined to practice and make sure he’s the best.”
Ilgin was inspired by those remarks because he knows he has a long road ahead of him as he wants to focus on a professional soccer career after he graduates from high school in June.
“It was amazing,” Ilgin said. “He said my favorite player’s name so I listened more carefully. After that speech I was like, pumped. I even texted my girlfriend, saying that I am going to work so much harder from now on.”
Ilgin was at the NSCAA luncheon and convention to pick up his all-America award and be honored along with 57 high school standouts across the country. Ilgin was the first all-American in Mattituck’s 80-year soccer history (Ilgin also was named a winner of the 2014 Siggy Stritzl Award by the New York Cosmos for being the best boys soccer player in Suffolk County. BigAppleSoccer.com named him its boys youth player of the year).
The New York Red Bulls (Major League Soccer) and the Cosmos (North American Soccer League), have expressed interest, including Brentford of the English Championship. Brentford (14-8-4, 46 points) was in fifth place out of 24 teams, 5 points behind first-place Bournemouth.
“I went there last year and tried out,” Ilgin said. “I guess I made it. They want me back this year. It’s good options.”
So, wherever he winds up, Ilgin realized he must step it up.
“My work ethic has to go up,” he said. “I need to work harder now because it’s not high school anymore. I know I’m not going to college. I’m going to try to [get to] the next level.”
Mattituck coach Mat Litchhult then said, “Work harder at practice.”
To which Ilgin replied, “I’m going to work harder from now on.”
Litchhult, who decided to retire after directing the Tuckers to the New York State Class B championship, accompanied Ilgin to the convention because the midfielder/forward’s parents couldn’t attend.
It certainly was a special moment for Litchhult, the school and the soccer program.
“To be in a room of that class, between all of the youth players to [NCAA] Division I, men’s and women, and to be one of 57 boys all-Americans, that’s just a tremendous honor for him,” Litchhult said. “For me as a coach, to be in that room, to hear his name called across the dais up there, it’s just an amazing experience. I look at it like an adult, a fatherly perspective on him. It gets emotional. It’s weird to think about it ending, but we talked about continuing on whatever he does with college or professional, me following and going to some of his games.
“I got to pick him up for practice, I drive him down here. We had that kind of father-son bonding time from that perspective. So I got to give him that kind of respect and honor because it was an honor that he gave me, he gave himself. It was good to be able to celebrate it together.”
Now the celebrations are over and it’s time to work harder with a potential pro career over the horizon.