Who is the next Didier Drogba, or Samuel Eto’o? And where is he playing right now? Perhaps at Senegal’s elite football academy: Diambars, one of the best in Africa. For years, boarders practice every day. In the end, only a handful of them will sign with a professional club in Europe.
I have often heard it said that in Africa, football is a religion. But it’s not until I went to Senegal that I realised it’s actually true. Every young Senegalese I met between the ages of 10 and 20 wants to become a professional player in a European club. I told them it was near impossible, that very few aspiring players actually make the cut and that they would be better off focusing on their studies, but they didn’t care. Many seemed to genuinely believe that with a little luck, their talent would be noticed and they would be fast-tracked to Manchester United or Real Madrid.
Some, I found out, have more luck than others.
It’s 6:30 am, some 70 km southeast of the capital, Dakar: Diambars football academy is coming to life. Students are just waking up to the competing sounds of the school bell and very, very loud crickets outside. In ten minutes they will be on the football pitch, ready for practice.
Diambars is one of Africa’s most professional training centres, and possibly one of the richest. New buildings line the school grounds, the pitch is the best in the country, and tuition is entirely free. As a bonus, French football star Patrick Vieira, who co-founded the school, saw to it that every student would be clothed from head to toe in professional football gear.
Walking towards the pitch, twenty-year old old Souleymane Cissé can’t help but think about the admonition from his coach: stay 100% focused during the game. He’s one of the best midfielders of his age group in Senegal, but he has to improve if he wants to play alongside his friends. Three of them have already been signed by Lille, a successful French football club.
From the sandy streets of Dakar to the green pitch of Diambars, this edition of Reporters tells the story of a dream: play football with the pros.