AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS

Douala academy nurtures Cameroon’s next generation of Indomitable Lions

Trainees at Cameroon's Brasseries Football School in Douala.
Trainees at Cameroon's Brasseries Football School in Douala. © Pierre René-Worms, France 24

The Brasseries Football School in Cameroon has nurtured some of Africa’s greatest players since it began operating in 1989. The distinguished academy has sent footballers to some of the world's top clubs, as well as to Cameroon’s national team, the Indomitable Lions. FRANCE 24 visited their training ground in Douala.

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Vincent Aboubakar, Clinton Njie, Ignatius Ganogo: The trio who play for Cameroon’s ‘Indomitable Lions’ in the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) are all three products of the Brasseries Football School, one of the most distinguished football academies in Africa.

The academy is located in Douala, Cameroon’s commercial hub and largest city. Protected from the hustle and bustle of Douala’s monster traffic jams by walls painted yellow and red, the aspiring footballers can take advantage of this small haven of peace to focus on their dream: becoming professional players like their illustrious predecessors Samuel Eto'o or Rigobert Song.

‘I know I can have my chance’

"The school is a great training centre here in Cameroon. Fantatstic players have been through here, I know I can have my chance," David Mimbang, a 14-year-old trainee, told FRANCE 24. The young defensive midfielder,  in his third year of training at the Brasseries Football School, dreams of joining the club of Montpellier in southern France, like Cameroonian football legend Roger Milla did in the late 1980s.

David Mimbang trains at the Brasseries Football School in Douala.
David Mimbang trains at the Brasseries Football School in Douala. © Pierre René-Worms, France 24

The academy was founded in 1989 as part of a philanthropic programme for young people by Brasseries du Cameroun, a subsidiary of the French brewing and beverage giant Castel. Children from all over Cameroon dream of being among the 11 trainees selected every year for the school’s six-year course.

The academy adopted a sport and study programme in 2008, housing trainees on site in three dormitories fitted with mosquito nets for each age category: U14, U16 and U18. The president of the Brasseries Football School, Jacques Elimbi, and its general manager, Jean Flaubert Nono, are behind the development of this sport and study programme.

Training in the ‘Brazil of Africa’

"Cameroon is the Brazil of Africa. It is a country with lot of talented players, but without a proper system of training. This academy has made it possible by grooming players who have played in great clubs, while strengthening Cameroon’s national football team," Elimbi told FRANCE 24. "We are nurturing the next generation."

The Brasseries Football School course includes academic studies to make sure trainees get an education beyond their football training.

Jacques Elimbi, president of Cameroon's Brasseries Football Club. "We are nurturing the next generation," he says.
Jacques Elimbi, president of Cameroon's Brasseries Football Club. "We are nurturing the next generation," he says. © Pierre René-Worms, France 24

"We obviously teach football by helping young people to develop their talents, but at the same time we explain that not everyone will turn professional. So we also have to teach them how to become men in order to integrate into society. This is why we insist on studies, discipline and moral ethics," said Elimbi. “We try to make them keep their feet on the ground.”

Trainees go through an intense, military-like course. Up at dawn, they start their day by attending classes outside the academy grounds. They come back in the afternoon, after a nap, for their football training session. Their day ends with some further tutoring, to make sure that academic studies remain a priority.

“It was hard to keep up at the beginning. We get up early and do bodybuilding or training in the morning. But we end up getting used to it,” said Mimbang. “If you want something, you have to be ready to make sacrifices. But that's what we like to do. So we have to train every day.”

‘Not a normal life’

Nono, the academy’s general manager, acknowledges that the trainees, aged between 12 and 18, “do not live a normal life for their age”. The 53-year-old, who comes from the French city of Lyon, has a long career in football management. He is a figure of authority whose words always carry weight at the academy.

Although he does not coach himself, Nono always keeps an eye on the training sessions. On the day FRANCE 24 visited, young footballers from the U14 and U16 sections were each occupying a half of the pitch. “More intensity!”, called out one of the coaches as trainees practised dribbling.

Jean Flaubert Nono keeps an eye on a training session at Cameroon's Brasseries Football School.
Jean Flaubert Nono keeps an eye on a training session at Cameroon's Brasseries Football School. © Pierre René-Worms, France 24

The coach of the U14s is an alumni of the Brasseries Football School who never made it as a professional player.

"I help train newcomers. I make them work on their coordination, their balance. I know my failures, I try to help them so that they avoid my mistakes,” Michel Platini Weladji told FRANCE 24. “In my time, we were external. Now, trainees are housed and fed at the academy. I repeat to them that it is an opportunity,” adds the coach, whose first names is a tribute to a French football legend of the 1980s.

Coach Michel Platini Weladji during a training session at the Brasseries Football School.
Coach Michel Platini Weladji during a training session at the Brasseries Football School. © Pierre René-Worms, France 24

A talented generation

Aspiring footballers train in a field surrounded by huge posters of the stars who passed through the Brasseries Football School. The members of the Cameroon national team that won the CAN in 2000, 2002, and 2017 stare down on the trainees practising dribbling on the lawn.

"When we see these photos, it motivates us. We say to ourselves that our dream is possible," said Mimbang, who dreams of joining the Indomitable Lions to play the World Cup and the CAN.

Prestigious alumni regularly return to the academy training grounds in Douala to share their insights with trainees. "When they come back, it's like a family reunion," said Nono, the school’s general manager.

Aspiring footballers train in a field surrounded by huge posters of the stars who passed through the Brasseries Football School.
Aspiring footballers train in a field surrounded by huge posters of the stars who passed through the Brasseries Football School. © Pierre René-Worms, France 24

The Brasseries Football School faces several challenges, including organising tournaments against other young players. With minimal logistical support from the Cameroon Football Federation, it is up to the academy to plan regular matches against teams from other football schools. Three tournaments organised by Brasseries du Cameroun allow trainees to practise in real conditions.

"At the Limbé tournament that we organised in December, we won for the first time in all three categories U14, U16 and U18. Each time we came on top against 16 other teams,” says Nono proudly. "The trainees are more and more serious (…) They are talented and the succession is assured."

Competition over new talents

Another challenge the academy faces is the intensifying competition to detect and attract young talents. Elimbi, the school's president, criticises other training centres, which he says “are only interested in money”.

Young trainees at the Brasseries Football School.
Young trainees at the Brasseries Football School. © Pierre René-Worms, France 24

The academy relies on a nationwide tournament organised by Brasseries du Cameroun each year during the major holiday break. The top 100 take part in the final in capital Yaounde, with only 11 players eventually joining the course.

The end of the programme can also be be quite stressful for trainees since the school does not have privileged relations or agreements with professional football clubs.

"I hope I will succeed in getting a contract in Europe. That's what I'm waiting for now. I'm ready to turn pro," Loïc Dieudonné Ntoko, a 17-year-old trainee in his final year, told FRANCE 24. "My dream is to play for PSG."

This article has been translated from the original in French.

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