International soccer scholarships changing lives for Africa’s soccer youth
Despite being the world’s most popular sport, soccer has not displayed true diversity at the highest level. Talented youngsters from developing countries – and Africa in particular – have faced numerous obstacles in finding opportunities to show their skills in front of talent scouts and decision-makers. Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are just the tip of the iceberg of African talent waiting in the wings.
One organisation, World Wide Scholarships Africa (WWS), aims to address the situation by linking young African athletes with opportunities to showcase their talent on the global stage. WWS is the leading scholarships and opportunity linking group and has established relationships with some of the world’s most famous football clubs, regularly hosting talent showcase trials which have resulted in opportunities to sign lucrative high-profile professional contracts and university scholarships.
WWS CEO Munya Maraire, an ex-Zimbabwean athlete who has personal experience of moving to the United States to pursue his sporting dream, says the organisation is set up to bring dreams that much closer to Africa. “While we can hold events to put African talent on display in front of international talent scouts, there is an earlier step that needs to be dealt with first – preparing local athletes to be ready for such assessments. That is our priority in our talent development strategy.”
An example of ongoing collaboration to place African footballers on the global stage is that between WWS and Lombardia Uno Group – Italy’s largest soccer academy and coaching network. LUG is headed by the President of the Italian coaches association Mr Paolo Gatti. Gatti was the head of the AC Milan Youth sector before taking on a bigger role by independently running the AC Milan football club’s technical academy, which deals with more than 1000 players at any one time and boasts a talent pipeline that has produced top Italian players namely most recently AC Milan’s top midfielder Sandro Tonali who signed a contract valued at 32 million euros.
“We have placed young South African players and youngsters from other African countries with LUG and they have had the opportunity to be trained and scouted through the academy. The chance to actually train with selected talent from around the world and to use top-class facilities provides the kind of grounding and experience aspirant young stars need before they reach the big leagues,” says Maraire.
Aadil Patel who heads up WWS’s soccer programme says, “Collaboration with top global academies and clubs means we get to organise soccer trials on their behalf to scout and select top players from Africa, and to place them with European clubs – the ultimate goal of any young soccer star. But we also need to take care of other aspects of preparation, such as running coaching education courses on European coaching methodology, creating a full development and training programme for local youth talent and coordinating the participation of African teams in European tournaments during holiday seasons.”
“In this way, young African athletes gain as much exposure to what it’s really like in the highly professional and competitive European league environment. We even coordinate high school and university education, as well as language and coursework so that African athletes who are given opportunities to further their soccer careers in Europe can continue to develop themselves as well-rounded individuals with more skills,” Patel adds.
The highlight of this year’s WWS sporting opportunity linkage schedule is the WWS Scout Camp 2020, which takes place at Camp Discovery near Pretoria from 14 – 18 December. “We have extended open invitations to all young athletes who would like to showcase their talent for top international scouts – particularly in a year during which sporting events as an opportunity to shine have been virtually non-existent,” says Maraire.
This event is a multi-disciplinary event for soccer, rugby and basketball, featuring top international talent development agents from some of the world’s premier leagues, such as the NBA. “The cherry on the cake this year is an American Football showcase, which for the first time in history provides an opportunity for local youth athletes to demonstrate that they have the skills necessary to compete in the NCAA / NFL. It will be a non-contact trial focusing on skills and raw talent, which presents an exciting opportunity for South African youngsters to be recognised by talent scouts from the world’s richest sporting competition,” Maraire says.
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