The potential for young African soccer players to make the leap from domestic competition to major European leagues has been given a significant boost by a partnership between World Wide Scholarships (WWS) and the Lombardia Uno AC Milan Academy.
In its quest to link talented African athletes with opportunities to showcase their talent on the global stage, WWS has attempted to overcome the numerous challenges facing youngsters on the continent. By establishing relationships with some of the world’s most famous soccer clubs and regularly hosting talent showcase trials, WWS has paved the way for high-profile and lucrative professional contracts and university scholarships.
Now, WWS and AC Milan – one of the most prestigious soccer clubs in Europe – have joined forces to open a soccer academy in September 2021, supported by Italian coaches on-site and the club’s training methodology.
WWS hosts mini-trials throughout the year in key African countries where interest and participation in the sport are high but barriers to progression to the international stage are limiting.
African youngsters identified through the mini-trials will be taken on two international tours in July and August this year, including week-long training camps in Milan.
WWS CEO Munya Maraire says the partnership with AC Milan will soon begin to turn dreams into reality. “There are many steps in an international talent pipeline from Africa which need to be in place before our talent can regularly feature in the world’s top leagues and soccer clubs. From talent identification to coaching and mentoring, we are putting the infrastructure in place to ensure that Africa is fairly represented among the world’s footballing elite.”
The Lombardia Uno Group is Italy’s largest training academy and coaching network, headed by the president of the Italian coaches’ association, Mr Paolo Gatti.
“The LUG handles more than 1000 players at a time and boasts a talent pipeline that has produced many top Italian players. We have placed young South African players with LUG and have set up a system that allows players from around the continent to get the opportunity to be trained and scouted through the academy,” says Maraire.
“It’s not just about being spotted by talent scouts – there is an earlier step of preparing African athletes to be ready for such assessments, and this is something we continue to work on through WWS. We have made it possible for talented young African athletes to train with selected talent around the world at top-class facilities, which will help them become adjusted to the big leagues,” he adds.
Other preparation steps for young athletes include familiarisation with European coaching methodology and the coordination of regular participation in tournaments in both Africa and Europe to stay sharp. Then, there is coursework for languages and other studies to produce well-rounded athletes with a bright future.
“Our ambition is to expose as many African soccer players to the reality of what it’s like to be a professional player in a competitive European league environment. The new academy on African soil is another step in bridging the gap in preparing African talent to become global superstars of the world’s most-loved and most-watched game,” says Maraire.