GOAL legend Marco Gabbiadini brought up-and-coming U.S. footballers to Wearside for a special visit.
The striker, a fans’ favourite during his playing days for Sunderland from 1987 to 1991, visited the club’s Academy of Light with Utah boys’ team Aggies FC.
Marco coached and mentored the under-13s’ side in a game against a Black Cats Foundation team.
The youngsters’ 10-day cultural and educational trip has been organised by the i2i Life Foundation where Marco now works in a head of sport role.
The charity aims to improve people’s lives through football, while also teaching the importance of self-reliance and hard work.
Marco, who played 157 times for the Black Cats, said: “Playing for Sunderland was a huge high point in my career, so it’s fantastic for me to be able to bring these young players up to the town to see for themselves what can be achieved through hard work and dedication.
“The aim of this trip is to raise these young men’s aspirations, and playing a match at Sunderland’s Academy of Light is sure to help us achieve that goal.”
The idea behind the Aggies’ trip to England came about in August last year when i2i director Kent Mayall visited Utah on a family holiday.
His son Connor, 13, was invited to take part in a soccer tournament with Aggies FC, and was overwhelmed by the welcome he received.
It was this experience and the vision of the i2i directors which prompted them to invite the team from Logan to visit England.
Since then, the Aggies have raised about $60,000 in sponsorship to fund their trip across the Atlantic – with Marco offering accommodation at his bed and breakfast in York.
The Aggies players represent nine different nationalities and come from a diverse range of social and economic backgrounds. For many, it is the first time they have ever been on a plane.
Mr Mayall said: “We want to raise these lads’ aspirations and provide an experience through football that they will cherish and remember for the rest of their lives.”