Africa putting the accent on youth


Continuing its series of reports on development programmes for young players, turns the spotlight on Africa, where every effort is being made to nurture and develop young footballers through the creation of training centres and football academies and initiatives protecting minors.

We start in Morocco, where Nasser Larguet, a youth training guru in both France and Africa, has steered his young charges to the highest level. As the head of the Mohamed VI Academy, he makes good use of resources and infrastructures that he describes as often being better than the ones he finds in France. Proof of that are the results obtained by his U-15, U-17 and U-19 teams, the leaders in their respective national categories.  

The academy is home to 60 youngsters from all over the country and has been supplying Morocco with players for the national U-17 and U-20 teams since 2009.

“We won’t see the results of the training programme until the CAF African Junior Football Championship, to be held in Morocco in 2013,” commented Larguet, who also said he receives more than 30 calls a day from families hoping to send their children to the academy. Supplying players to the Moroccan first division, most of the youngsters it takes in hail from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Youth academies can also be found in the other countries that make up the Maghreb region and in sub-Saharan Africa. The Algerian Football Association receives state funding for youth coaches at the country’s professional clubs, while Tunisia and Egypt have also made great strides thanks to training programmes set up around a decade ago and structures that allow them to hold on to their brightest young talents. The success of those policies can be seen in Esperance de Tunis’ CAF Champions League triumph last year and Egypt’s three consecutive Africa Cup of Nations wins between 2006 and 2010, a record for the competition.

Finishing schools
Heading farther south, Cameroon boasts the Kadji Sport Academies, which have produced stars of the calibre of Samuel Eto’o, Stephane Mbia and Nicolas N’Koulou, while the Feyenoord Fetteh Football Academy was set up in the Ghanaian capital of Accra after the turn of the millennium, following a proposal made by Dutch club Feyenoord. The academy offers a way out of poverty for thousands of families across the country.

In South Africa, Bafana Bafana’s latest generation is preparing to take up the baton from the class of 2010. Created by the French duo of Bernard Lama and Patrick Vieira and Jimmy Adjovi-Boco of Benin, South Africa’s national youth football academy was developed in Senegal under the name Diambars and opened in January 2010 in Johannesburg. Its brief is to unearth talented youngsters from deprived areas.

Africa has so many good young players. Everyone can see that.

Finally, former France international Jean-Marc Guillou set up the Sol Beni Academy in Abidjan, which is now known as the JMG Academy. Guillou has since opened similar academies in other parts of the world, including Madagascar and Vietnam.

These centres have all contributed to the rise in the number of gifted young players emerging from Africa, not to mention the fine results achieved by the continent’s representatives in youth competitions.

“The organisation of well-run and professional youth competitions is a key factor that contributes to the survival of local championships and helps make them attractive, as does the training of instructors, the presence of doctors monitoring young players, the modernisation of sporting facilities and the construction of stadiums with smaller capacities,” said Johan Moreau, an analyst with the consultancy firm Kurt Salmon. “Right from the start, the best youngsters don’t feel the need to go abroad.”

Since 2003 the company has partnered the Euromed Management School in conducting studies on the economic development of football.

Combating cheating and corruption
Though he left Africa at a very early age, ex-Cameroon forward Patrick Mboma remains one of its most passionate ambassadors. “Africa has so many good young players. Everyone can see that,” said Mboma, who was capped 56 times by country and was Africa’s Player of the Year in 2000.

“It’s a breeding ground that supplied players for the national team in the previous decade, during the glory years, with players like [Rigobert] Song, [Carlos] Kameni and the young Eto’o. Then it all came to a stop. Why was that? Because of the lack of structures and organisation at a local level.”

Mboma has the solution to the problem, however: “Every school and college must have its own football pitch and we have to fight against cheating and corruption with the support of FIFA and other institutions.”

FIFA has also been devoting its energies to an issue that is vital to the healthy development of youth football in Africa, namely the protection of minors. In response to the numerous problems posed by the exodus of young footballers to overseas training centres, FIFA created the Transfer Matching System (TMS), which is designed to restrict the illegal transfer of underage players. World football’s governing body is responsible for the legal framework regulating international transfers involving minors (under 18s), an essential step forward for youth football.

A solidarity tax, which equates to a percentage of any transfer fee going to the club that trained the player in question, has been introduced, though the payment of the money is now dependent on the player having been properly registered at said club, which must also be registered. Currently being finalised in Africa, and soon to be applied around the world, the system will enable players to be registered as soon as they sign with a club and will also allow strict monitoring of their career paths.

“The system will stop unscrupulous agents from luring children with false promises of contracts and then dumping them in the streets of European cities,” said Anthony Baffoe, the first African player to appear in the Bundesliga, setting out its advantages. “They’re taken abroad without them even having bothered to read their contracts closely, contracts that are often written in a language that’s foreign to them. There are too many people who take advantage of the naivety and the desire of these young players.”

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