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Ghana's Youth Reaches for Football Stardom


While more and more African football players are making an impact at the top level in Europe, European clubs have started opening up new academies in Africa to locate and train future talent. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from one academy, a few hours outside Ghana's capital, Accra.

It is game day Saturday at the Feyenoord Fetteh Football Academy on a windy, seaside pitch.

A mix of Ghanaian and Dutch football coaches scream advice. Their under-16 team is playing a side with much older players.

The opposing captain, Romeo, a 22-year-old, is a struggling semi-pro with a bum ankle. Romeo seems somewhat jealous. He says he tried to get into the academy, but was rejected.

"I was willing to come here, to come in. But I would not get any help," Romeo said.

"So when you come here, you need a sponsor?"

"Yes, you need someone to bring you," he explained. "In Ghana football, (nothing happens) unless you have a manager to bring you along. So that if they see you then, your performance, and then you are good, then they pick you."

But the technical director of the camp, Sam Arday, denies this. He says he picks the best players from throughout Ghana, sending out scouts to watch even the most remote sandlot games.

He says he only wants young teenagers so he can have time to develop their skills. He also makes sure they get free schooling, compliments of the academy.

"If I see my boys playing against the big teams, then I become very, very happy. It is the interest, which is driving me here, always. Because you have to wake up early in the morning, five o'clock, and that is because our boys have to go to school," he said. " And then the educational aspect is also paramount here. We try as much as possible to also give the boys some education, so if at the end of the day they are not able to make it in football, then they will follow on the education."

Ghanaian workers sing as they set up a new football field, with the latest state of the art, soft artificial grass.

The Dutch club Feyenoord has spent millions here, hoping one of the players will turn into a star player or at least more than a few of them will become serviceable professionals.

While the second half is going on, a whole team of cooks is busily preparing food for the young athletes.

"We give them breakfast, there is the normal breakfast that we cook, and then in the afternoon we give them our local Ghanaian dish and then the night we give the continental dish," he explained. "They have to get a lot of energy so when they go to the park, when they train, after that they have to replace the energy, so we give them energy food, like I will give them more of these carbohydrates."

It is now resting time for the players, who listen to music from their dorm-room bunk beds. The academy team lost the game, but it was just a friendly against a much older team.

Fifteen-year-old Francis Joe Mensah is one of the academy's best players, a lightning-quick, technically solid, left back, who can also play left wing.

He predicts he will make it in Europe. He says he has no fear of failure.

"No I am not afraid," he said. "Once I am here they teach us a lot of things. Everything they do in Europe, they teach us here, so I am not afraid. So I am playing my best to get to the highest level."

Mensah also draws inspiration from Ghana's first ever qualification for the upcoming World Cup in June.

But he believes his generation will do even better.

"They have the talent for Ghanaian players, they have the talent but they have to polish it. That is why we are here, they are polishing us. I think we will be better. When you have the talent and then you polish it, you become the best," he said.

Unlike Freddy Adu, a young Ghanaian who became a precocious professional in the United States, and refused to play for Ghana in this year's World Cup, all the players at the academy say they want to play for the Black Stars, as the Ghanaian national team is known.

For those who fail to make it to the bigger stages, the academy has a team that plays in Ghana's professional league and in the meantime, they also get to go to a nearby school for free, which in Ghana is no small feat.