Bobby Smyrniotis is not a farmer to be sure, but if you track what he has done over the years at SIGMA FC, there's no mistaking the fact that he's sown many seeds in the soccer world.
And many strong roots have taken hold. In order to ensure these roots lead to a bumper crop, Smyrniotis and the coaching staff at SIGMA FC, during a scheduled break every fall, travel to Europe to reconnect to established relationships.
It's part learning, part fact-finding and part continued endorsement for our game all the way over here in Canada. But make no mistake, it is all tilling the fertile soil of the soccer world.
This past fall, SIGMA FC spent time with clubs in Belgium, Holland and England - each stop an integral part of Sigma FC's history, and hopefully just as an important part of its future.
"Over 10 days, I travelled to clubs in Holland, Belgium and England to reconnect technically with clubs we already deal with on technical matters, and also to look at new cooperations," said Smyrniotis.
Perhaps nowhere is more connected to Sigma FC's past than Holland. In Amsterdam, Smyrniotis dropped in on one of his usual stops- AFC Ajax where Patrick Ladru is back working with the famed club. Ladru teamed with Smyrniotis for the first-ever Sigma-Ajax came back in 2005. He came back three consecutive years and helped two of Sigma's young players - Kyle Bekker and Daniel Correa - when they trained at the club. He left the Ajax for a coaching opportunity in the Middle East, but recently returned to the club to help drive forward the development of the next generation of players there.
Smyrniotis noted that the best thing about visiting Ajax, aside from seeing his old friend Ladru amongst others, was seeing how a club, world renowned for its youth training methods, experiment and try new approaches.
"I got to see some new things," said Smyrniotis, shaking his head almost in disbelief. "I watched five younger teams walk past the training fields and go to a parking lot. They played street soccer. One and a half hours of free play. I was aware this was going on, but to see it at person at the training grounds was quite the sight.
"These clubs are always trying to see what they are missing out on," he added. "Always looking at new ways of doing things, and staying ahead of the pack."
Down the highway from Amsterdam, at AZ Alkmaar, there was another example of how deep SIGMA FC's roots are in Holland. Back in 2009, AZ Alkmaar youth coaches Dennis Haar and Nick van Aart worked with Sigma players at the annual Sigma FC ID Camp. Still today the parties continue to cooperate on different technical matters. The only difference is that today both are with the first team- Haar is the (interim) head coach, while van Aart is the head goalkeeper coach.
From Holland, Smyrniotis went to Belgium, where he visited the youth academy of KRC Genk. Coaches from Genk were guests of the Sigma FC ID Camp this past summer, and the club is perhaps one of the most respected developers of young talent in Europe having sold such stars as Christian Benteke (Aston Villa), Thibaut Courtois and Kevin De Bruyne (Chelsea) recently.
Flush from the sale of these players among others, and a 2012 Champions League appearance, Genk is a team on the rise.
"It's a club that has done great job with their youth, when you look at Belgium, they are one of the leaders," said Smyronitis. "They've sold 50 million euros worth of players in the last few years and now they are building a brand new youth academy faciltiy.
Smyrniotis says that with Genk, SIGMA FC has a good partner with a blossoming relationship.
"We are exchanging information continuously, and looking at having their coaches come over more regularly, as well as having SIGMA FC coaches going over there as well to continue their development," said Smyrniotis. "And we are looking for opportunities for our players. We had very good meetings, and I am hoping that some of our SIGMA players will move over there in the future."
From Belgium, Smyrniotis travelled to London, England. The timing of the trip coincided with the Canadian National Men's team's friendly against Australia, which provided the staff a chance to see SIGMA FC Alumni Kyle Bekker in action.
However, the trip also gave SIGMA coaches a chance to reconnect with coaches at a few Premiership sides, including Tottenham Hotspur and Crystal Palace.
Back in 2009, SIGMA FC had Tottenham Hotspur's Chris Ramsey work with players at the annual ID camp. Ramsey is an integral member of the Tottenham's technical team,working with the reserves and more importantly guiding the club's top talents from youth to first team football.
"I was able to spend time at the club and watch the first team train at their brand new facility. I am not wowed by many things, but what they have there, I have not seen any better elsewhere."
Another stop in London included Crystal Palace and coach Ben Garner, who worked with SIGMA players at the 2013 ID camp. Smyrniotis values all the relationships he has forged over the years.
"It's great. With Chris Ramsey at Tottenham, he understands the North American game, he's been over here. He coached the Charleston Battery in the old A League. He understands the challenges over here, especially those of transitioning an amateur youth player to becoming a regular starter as a professional," he explained. "He was happy to see that Kyle (Bekker) was on the national team, because he was a player that he really enjoyed watching. He asked about quite a few of our younger players as well, many of which were now in the US enjoying success at the collegiate level.
"Same with Ben Garner at Crystal Palace. He rifled off about 10 names just to see what they are doing now and how they continue to progress."