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Harnessing Youth Talents Through Soccer Academies

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Youth soccer academies are institutions charged with identifying and training budding soccer talents for future use in big football clubs and national teams.

Sports analysts note that these academies have become veritable means of nurturing and grooming promising young footballers until they are mature for maximum exposure in clubs.

They add that many of the renowned soccer stars were discovered and nurtured via this process.

 For those that evolved the strategy, their guiding principle is, perhaps, in line with the popular axiom that says “stars are not just born but they are also made’’.

 FIFA, the world soccer governing body, apparently shares the vision, as it has consistently been promoting the formation youth academies, so as to identify talented footballers early in life and nurture them for future stardom.

On Feb 1, 2009, FIFA, in an apparent move to protect the age-group teams, particularly those with players below the age of 18 years, decided that there would be an additional need for FIFA’s approval to achieve successful transfers.

In essence, the new rule is aimed at establishing the consent of the players, their parents and national football federations in such transfers and FIFA says that the regulation applies to all its 208 affiliate nations.

FIFA also initiated age-group competitions to sharpen the focus of the young soccer talents, while gauging their performances.

In1985, FIFA created the JVC U-16 World Youth Championship, which was eventually upgraded to become the FIFA U-17 World Cup.

Since then, the world soccer body had initiated other global age-group tournaments such as the U-21 World Cup and the Olympic soccer event for U-23s.

Nigeria won the maiden edition of the JVC Cup in China in 1985, while she also won the upgraded FIFA U-17 in 1993 in Japan. The country later won the 2007 edition of the tournament in South Korea.

Sports pundits note that many Nigerian stars like Wilson Oruma, Nduka Ugbade, Victor Igbinoba, Nwankwo Kanu, Victor Ikpeba, Tijani Babangida, Austin ‘Jay Jay” Okocha, Celestine Babayaro and Emmanuel Babayaro were products of the age-group competitions.

 The star players were recruited by top European clubs; where they developed their skills and became celebrities.

Nigeria again proved that she had become a force to be reckoned with in football at the 1996 Atlanta Games in the U.S., where she won the Olympic soccer gold. This, she did at the expense of soccer giants like Brazil and Argentina.

Argentina fought back at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing to keep Nigeria in check with a lone goal to clinch the Olympic gold.

Other African countries like Ghana, Cameroon and Gambia have also performed well in global age-group soccer tournaments.

Since then, many academies have sprung up in some African countries, including Nigeria, to produce young soccer talents.

Soccer academies have been established in Ghana, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroons and Nigeria but observers note that their operations have been fraught with some inherent problems that limited their growth.

Soccer pundits note that many of the academies have not been affiliated to clubs, while their products have been unable to play for local or foreign clubs.

They also observe that the standard of the soccer academies in Africa was far below of the standard of those in Europe which strive to achieve a healthy mix of soccer training and schooling.

  It was, perhaps, the need to bridge this yawning gap that compelled Gov. Bukola Saraki of Kwara to team up with Kojo Williams, a former Chairman of the Nigeria Football Association (NFA), to establish a soccer academy known as “Ilorin School of Football Excellence’’.

The academy was patterned after European soccer academies but Saraki and Williams parted ways, shortly before the inauguration of the academy. Even Clemence Westahoff, a one-time Technical Adviser to the Super Eagles, who was engaged as the academy’s Director, soon left after some misunderstanding.

The question, therefore, is: What are the missing links responsible for the problems of soccer academies in Africa?

A recent tour of the German league, “Bundesliga’’, reveals that the German model of soccer academy has some elements that are glaringly deficient in African soccer academies.

Kay Oliver-Lagendoff, Press Officer of the Deutsche Fusball Liga (DFL), otherwise known the Bundesliga, said that the setting up of soccer academies in Germany was part of the conditions specified by all 36 clubs that founded the Bundesliga in 2001.

“It is an integral part of the Bundesliga licensing package that all soccer clubs should have academies.

“After Germany failed at ‘Italia ‘90’ and in some other competitions, it dawned on us that something should be done to re-build our national teams,’’ Oliver-Lagendoff said, adding: “There is also the need to rekindle the interest of youths in organised soccer.’’

 Oliver-Lagendoff said that the academies were also meant to serve as a reservoir of players for German clubs.

“It is also part of the strategy to reduce the clubs’ over-dependence on foreign players. The process also aims at raising national teams that comprise appreciable number of youths, who were hitherto derailing and needed to be refocused,’’ he said.

Oliver-Lagendoff said that with the right marketing mix, there was a strong desire to fill stadiums with well-groomed professionals with the right mentality to raise the profile of the Bundesliga.

“It was decided that the academies remain the best option to sustain the supply chain of talents to clubs and national teams. The strategy paid off, as the academies now guarantee a steady source of employment to many German youths,’’ he said.

Also speaking, Kay Dammholz, Vice-President (Sales, Audio Visual Rights) of the Bundesliga, noted that as at Sept. 1, this year, of the 5,000 youths registered in soccer academies across Germany, 110 made it into the Bundesliga, while 88 made it into Bundesliga 2.

He said that the academies’ operations by the clubs had since been standardised.

“They are expected to have U-9, U-10, U-11 teams without any form of restrictions. They also have U-12, U-13, U-14, U-15 squads and one team can have up to 22 players.

“They are also expected to have high-performance categories, made up of U-16, U-17, U-18 and U-19 teams and one team can have up to 22 players.

“They are also to have the U-16 to U-19 category, of which 12 of the players must be eligible to play for a German FA Youth National Team,’’ he said.

Besides, Dammholz said that the Bundesliga had a standing committee that toured the clubs to ensure that recommended standards were strictly adhered to.

“The committee also helps to ensure that the there is a healthy marriage between schooling and soccer,’’ he said.

Stefan Satore, the Head Coach of the FSA Mainz 05 Academy, said that “with the right mix of education and soccer, the academy ensures the breeding of talents for senior teams.

 “We work with schools to ensure that our products take their academic work as seriously as they take their soccer careers,’’ hen said.

Commenting on the German experience, Mitchell Obi, a journalist, and Nkechi Obi, a sports marketer, stressed the need to promote a mix of education and sports in Nigeria, so as to ensure that footballers, even after their sporting careers, would be able to migrate to other vocations without problems.

“It is at the youth level that the philosophies of professionalism and team spirit can be instilled in the players,’’ Mitchell said.

Emeka Odikpo, a sports commentator, said: “Although some soccer academies currently exist across Nigeria, they have been largely unable to place their players in local or foreign clubs.

“What then is their use if they unable to place players in clubs?’’ he asked, stressing that “the academies must be affiliates of clubs to facilitate the easy movement of their products into clubs either at home or abroad.

“The Nigeria Football Federation or the National League Board should make it mandatory for clubs to own academies, as this will enable the products of the academies to be gainfully engaged in the clubs. This is the only way to appreciate the academies’ usefulness,’’ Odikpo said.

 He noted that all the members of the Swedish team to the 2009 FIFA U-17 World Cup hosted by Nigeria were all products of their soccer academies, adding: “Their clinical finish at the tournament was an indication of their good upbringing.’’

Nnamdi Okosieme, the Sports Editor of Next Newspapers, who also took part in the German Bundesliga tour, said that “efforts should be made to replicate the German model of soccer academy in Nigeria’’.

Nezianya writes for News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

Tony Nezianya

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Athletics: Okagbare Begins Preparation For Tokyo 2020

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Blessing Okagbare, yesterday started her preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics at the National Trials.
The opening day of the Tokyo 2020 National Trials will see Okagbare competing in the 100m against highly rated Grace Nwokocha
Okagbare, the 8th time national champions is the favourite to win the event again, but Grace Nwokocha remains one of her biggest threats.
The American-based track queen won the championship from 2009 to 2014 and returned to win the 2016 edition after missing out in 2015.
Despite her qualification for the Olympics, Okagbare will be hoping to continue her winning streak and go to the Olympics in high spirits.
Apart from the 100m finals expected to take place in the afternoon, there will be shotput men final with all eyes on  Chukwuebuka Enekwechi.

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LAA Holds Lucrative Track Meet, Next Week

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The Lagos State Athletics Association has announced it would be holding a lucrative Athletics Meet on Thursday, June 24, 2021, at the Teslim Balogun Stadium.
Yussuf Alli, who is the Meet Director for the Lagos Open Athletics Championship, made the disclosure on Wednes-day even as he revealed that arrangements were in top gear to have an elite cast of athletes in the one-day meet.
According to Alli, the Lagos Open Athletics Championship will simultaneously serve as a qualifying window for the Tokyo Olympics as well as a preparatory event for athletes that have already qualified for the sporting showpiece.
“This is another fantastic window for those seeking to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics as well as those seeking quality competition to stay in shape for the Olympics,” Alli said.
“The Lagos State Athletics Association, which is one of the most vibrant in the country, is out to organise a world-class event that would be the talk of the town as we count down to Tokyo,”  he added.
The list of events to be competed for at the Lagos Open Athletics Championship include, the 5,000 meters, 400 meters hurdles, 100 meters, 800 meters, 400 meters and 100 meters.
There would also be quality action in the 4×100 meters open, 4×100 meters open and 4×400 meters mixed relay.
Long jump, High jump, Triple jump, Shot put as well as  4×100 secondary schools relay and 4×100 secondary schools relay have all been pencilled down for the maiden Lagos Open Athletics Champion-ship.
Organisers have assured that the top three finishers across all the events will receive handsome prizes for their efforts.

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S’ Falcons Bow To World Champions

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The Super Falcons of Nigeria lost 2-0 to world champions, USA, in their final Group game at the 2021 Summer Series in Texas, USA.
The result means the African champions failed to win any of their three matches at the invitational tourna-ment, drawing one and losing the other two.
Kristen Press gave the Americans the lead on the stroke of half time, and before Lyn Williams killed Falcons hope of getting a draw with the second goal on the dot of 90 minutes.
With the victory, the world number one has now gone 42 games without tasting a defeat .As for the Falcons, the aim of participating in the Summer Series was to prepare them for a crucial 2022 African Women’s Champion-ship eliminator against perennial rivals, Ghana in October.
The African Women’s Championship will serve as qualifiers for the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

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