Cashing In On African Football: The Académie de Sol Beni Blueprint

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VENTURES AFRICA – Contrary to the wish of many of the game’s purists; football has predominately become a business. Whilst many fans the world over may bemoan this advent; it is an irreversible pattern. The beautiful game has blossomed into one of the world’s foremost, all encompassing and prominent business sectors. This could be a good opportunity to get in on the ground floor of one of the games most promising revenues.

Being the most popular and widely played sport in the world; there is opportunities in every corner of the globe. The top teams will scout every league in every country imaginable in an attempt to beat their rivals to the top talent and the players with the biggest profitability.

In the past 15 years one market has grown a lot quicker than the others; Africa. Businessmen were realising the untapped market that exists in the world’s second most populous continent. With over 1 billion people residing there and more than 30 million square kilometres of land; all the natural resources were available to challenge the European and South American duopoly.

The money minded and the football experts combined together to set up football schools throughout the continent. Some of the biggest names in football now have their names attached to schools in Africa.

Working Model

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has long held a global philosophy regarding football. Bypassing English talent if cheaper, better foreign alternatives present themselves. So it is no surprise that Wenger himself was attached to one of the most successful African football schools of the past two decades: Académie de Sol Beni.

Académie de Sol Beni are the youth team of legendary Ivorian outfit ASEC Mimosas and are responsible for shaping some of Africa’s top players. The likes of Gervinho, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Eboue (all of whom have played under Wenger at Arsenal), Yaya Toure, Salomon Kalou and Romaric all came through the youth system Académie de Sol Beni and have since formed the back bone of the Ivory Coast national team. That national team is the highest placed African team in the FIFA rankings.

Just the aforementioned six players have racked up combined transfer fees of over £80million (over $127 million). Ridiculous amounts of money have been made by these players, their associates and agents from the European clubs vying for their services.

The academy was set up by Jean-Marc Guillou in 1993 in the countries largest city Abidjan. Guillou is a French ex-professional footballer and coach with experience in both Europe and Africa. Spotting the untapped potential of the countries youth; Guillou set about bringing European training standards and increasing the quality of the facilities available to the club’s youth.

Guillou then quickly used his contacts within the European game to create links between the academy and prominent teams. K.S.K Beveren of the Belgian league have been the main beneficiaries of such a link. Guillou then helped establish links between Beveren and English giants Arsenal who were managed by Arsene Wenger; a man who he has long done business with. Guillou in fact gave Wenger his first chance in management. ASEC Mimosas have since set up links another English team; Charlton Athletic.

Guillou adhered to the age old business ethic of creating a quality product to ensure high demand. ASEC Mimosas became a production line of quality players, reaping the monetary gain of selling them to the European market. Using this money to further enhance their academy; they are continuing to produce talent at an exhaustive rate.

Ever Expanding Market

This entrepreneurial philosophy has been copied all over the continent in different countries by various enthusiasts and businessmen. Patrick Vieira; considered one of the worlds best midfielders in the past 20 years has set up such an academy in Senegal, the country of his birth. Although only in its infancy compared to the likes of Académie de Sol Beni, Diambars has already produced a number of players now plying their trade in the European leagues.

Such academies are being funded in a manner similar to investment trusts wherein financial backers will trust an expert in the field (in this case football coaches and professionals) to seek out and invest in worthy stock (young footballers). It is a long game though, rarely producing instant results, but perseverance and clever business tactics shown by the likes of Guillou can prove to be very profitable.