Sport managers of high-end teams usually uncover every stone to find outstanding performers from small fields around the global village. But now, private sport investors who cultivate and market talent are emerging. Private sport academies nurture budding talent and train them with qualities that grow their visibility in the eyes of elite teams. In Ethiopia, sport investment has been a state initiative for long and most football clubs have been dependent upon government funds until recently. The trend is shifting especially after DStv started airing Ethiopian football games, thus opening more opportunities for sport investors working on the grassroot level. Abiy Wendifraw, witnessed the commercialization taking shape in football.
Football investment in Ethiopia is all government business. Only two of the 16 clubs competing in the premier league are financed by non-governmental sources. In the lower leagues, the statistics are no different. Almost all football teams are run by city municipalities. The budget they secure from these sources does not go beyond covering salaries and other expenses. The grassroots football and development has long been a task with no ownership.
The Ethiopian Youth Sport Academy (EYSA) and the other state-owned sport centers in regional towns are trying to fill the gap. Government officials leading sport institutions, academies, and training centers complain that the private sector is not investing much on businesses related to grassroots development. In recent years, private training centers owned or founded by former footballers and football coaches are coming to business.
Andre Football Academy (AFA) is a private academy based in Addis Ababa showing promising progress a year after its establishment. We have an ambitious goal to nurture young and emerging footballers with sport discipline and physical activity. The multi-age play structure in the academy works to provide different training packages for talented and passionate children.
It all started in October 2019 when Biniam Sherif, Fitness Expert with a sport science educational background, and Yemisrach Ahmed, a public health graduate came together to generate ideas on starting a sport training service. Later, they met Andre, the former Footballer from Senegal who was visiting Ethiopia over a year ago. The man who had a professional career in Asia felt he had to contribute something to the kids and youth he saw playing football everywhere around Addis without proper facilities. Luckily, Andre met the two energetic young people who were already planning toward this. With technical support from the Senegalese, Biniam and Yemisrach lauched the service with a team of 20 children.
“We hired seven coaching staff and five certified coaches with two assistants. Since it is a strange startup business, we knew we had to finance it through our own personal resources,” says Yemisrach, Manager of the academy. “This was a prototype move and the result was astonishing. Within a month, the number of kids registered for enrollment doubled. More requests were coming in from youngsters and parents, and that forced us to think the business has a potential beyond what we imagined. We started considering expanding. The age category, limited to 15-17, was stretched to include 18 year-olds, in line with high schoolers’ age. And in three months, the number of trainees reached 70.”
When the academy co-founders started enjoying the increasing demand for their services, another surprise awaited them in the near future. The global COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. “That was so unfortunate for us, and for everyone. But we have learnt that we have the potential to grow. We know we have resources and man power,” she says.
When sport events were allowed to reopen with all necessary precautions, the academy resumed the service by doubling its staff and efforts. Now they have 20 staff and trainees numbering 150.
The academy requires the trainees to pay at least 75 per cent of the cost the academy incurs for its operation. According to the manager, the academy sponsors 25Pct of the trainees as they are recruited from disadvantaged neighborhoods. The sponsored trainees benefit from food and transport service packages allocated for them alongside technical football training.
The academy recruits the trainees in two general categories of below and above age 15. Those who are above 15 have to go through tryouts to convince coaches they have the talent potential. For under 15, the requirement is different. “The goal is not to make them take on technical and practical football exercises. We help them develop sport discipline and grow with it,” reveals Yemisrach.
So far, the academy is using rental facilities. The Mexico Training center, located in Tegbareid Polytechnic College, is organized for the under-9, under-13 and under-15 category teams. The Commercial Bank of Ethiopia’s (CBE) football training field is another center around CMC with trainees from under-17 and elite teams. Each category has four to five coaches. With a 1-to-10 trainer to trainees ratio, the academy endeavors to make sure everyone gets enough attention.
“It has been three months since we reopened after the sudden closure for COVID-19 and we are witnessing success. Doubling our staff, we have already accommodated 150 trainees while the demand is still growing. The progress we see on the trainees is really great. They are changing technically and physically,” Yemisrach added. “Our academy is yet to fulfill the minimum requirements to claim the name academy. We are working on a project level now. But it is our vision to work hard to raise globally competing and disciplined footballers.”
To reach their long-term goal, they believe they need support from the government. “We have a plan to build a large academy integrating regular scholastic education and international standard training grounds. We visited academies in West Africa and the UAE. We are working on a plan to raise funds for the building. Securing land for such a facility is a major resource we cannot secure without assistance from the government.”
Holding on to its long-term goals, the academy is working hard to organize events where international football scouts come and recruit players. The academy was even expecting invited scouts in April 2020 until the pandemic changed every plan. “The plan was to recruit trainees who might find a scholarship to join international academies before returning home to serve domestic teams and the national team,” says Yemisrach.
Now they are in a domestic tournament where different project teams compete and share competition experiences. Internationally, they are invited to the Mina Cup in Dubai that aims to become one of the leading youth football tournaments in the world.
“We plan to compete there in March with three different age categories,” she confirms.
These opportunities seem to attract more youngsters to join the private training centers. For Andre Football Academy, there are concerning issues requiring attention and action. Teams and clubs are already on their way to hunt-down some of the talent about to bear fruit.
To counter such attempts, the academy tries to put in place binding contracts. Once new applicants make it through trials and medical examinations, both the trainee and parents will have an agreement to sign-on. The agreement includes responsibilities of both sides and the stake the academy needs to secure regarding potential opportunities the trainee may get in the future.
“Some of the trainees are already being requested by clubs to play for them. Especially goalkeepers trained by our goalkeeping coaches are being targeted by teams for their services. That concerns us because we do not believe the trainees are mentally ready for such exposure. To address this issue, we are trying to educate them as to what awaits them in the life of a player outside the playing field.”EBR
9th Year • Jan 16 – Feb 15 2021 • No. 94