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Africa – How will it Deliver?

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (August 8th 2018)

Making History

Tonight (August 12th) history will be made. Barçelona and Sevilla will contest Spain’s Supercup, but it will be held in Morocco for the first time. Tangier’s Ibn Batouta Stadium.

It is not the only time Morocco has led the way in Africa. Following repeated failures to deliver on the pitch, Morocco’s current King, Mohammed VI, ordered a review. It concluded that there was a great deal wrong, including a lack of training facilities to develop young players.

The Atlas Lions last won the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON in 1976) – their only victory. Ten years later they qualified for the World Cup. It was a long wait until their next –Russia, and the end of the wait was no coincidence.

The review resulted in an impressive academy, the Mohammed VI Academy being built in Salé, near Rabat.

It’s first Director, and Project Manager, currently the Technical Director of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF), Nasser Larguet, explains its philosophy and success to KweséESPN below. It is the real, but hidden, success of Africa’s World Cup in Russia – a World Cup that was Africa’s worst in terms of performance for 36 years.

The Real Success of Africa’s World Cup

On the greatest stage in the world there should be no question, Africa’s failed: failed consistently, and most recently, in Russia, appallingly. All five African teams failed to get out of their groups – the first time that happened since 1982.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Despite the absurd claim that France’s success was actually an African triumph (see, there were positive signs.

Organisation and Progress

There was only one African coach at the World Cup, Aliou Cissé, but there was at least one who was not parachuted in – one whose achievements in Africa deserved a chance on the biggest stage.

Hervé Renard is the most successful foreign coach in African history, the only man to win the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) with two different countries, and the only foreign coach to win it more than once. But after his second triumph he left the Ivory Coast. His reasons were concise and telling – just one word – ‘organisation.’

Senegal had gone close to reaching the semi-final of the World Cup, beating the defending champions France, 1-0 in the first match. They went out by the same score against Turkey to a 95th minute İlhan Mansiz strike.

The then coach of the Lions of Terranga, the late Bruno Metsu, told the BBC:

“I am very proud of my players and we have come and shown that we are capable of upsetting the hierarchy of world football.

“It gives us a lot of hope for the future and the development of football in our country and in Africa.” [see]

But 16 years on, what has that hope led to, and where’s the development?

Strange as it may seem, despite the undoubted failure in Russia – they finished bottom of their group, albeit a tough one – there are signs of progress in the Atlas Lions.

Ivory Coast suffered while Renard found that organisation elsewhere – a nation that had not qualified for the World Cup in 32 years and had under-achieved in AFCON too, yet Morocco had organisation and a plan.

The Academy Route

Africa is liberally peppered with so-called academies. Some are genuine linked to or belonging to clubs, usually foreign, or private ones that require resources and facilities, and depend on selling talent.

They are a long way from what Europeans consider an academy to be. Few if any follow the Clarefontaine route – a national academy designed to prepare young players for international as well as club football.

Spain, Germany, Italy, and more recently, England, have adopted the same plan. Although there are differences, at least one African nation has a national academy, albeit a private one, and it is delivering, exceptionally quickly.

Morocco’s Mohammed VI Academy is a step in the right direction. The academy has focused on developing talent for Morocco’s youth teams since 2009, and has done so in a way that compliments rather than competes with their clubs.

Morocco has better organisation than most and qualified for the World Cup impressively under Renard. It’s no coincidence. Morocco went from pariah under the regime of previous CAF President, Issa Hayatou, to hosting important CAF events – both symposiums on male and female football – under new President Ahmad Ahmad.

It also delivered quickly under Renard – the final phase of African qualification for Russia’s World Cup was achieved without conceding a goal, although their fifth attempt to host the World Cup failed badly. Nevertheless, the future on the pitch looks bright thanks to a state of the art academy (see

The Philosophy

Larguet, explains its aims, objectives and plans, and that it is already delivering players. “Since the creation of the Academy in 2009, over 9 years of work, about 50 players have become professionals in Morocco’s Botola 1 and 2 and in Europe (Spain and France),” he says.

The philosophy is to produce players if possible, but to give the youngsters a fall-back position. Even the most successful academies fail to produce top players far more often than they succeed, so the Academy aims to develop exemplary people as well as players. Larguet explains it further.

“The philosophy of the Academy is excellence in:

1- Education: Respect and Values

2- Schooling: [There’s] No certainty of athletic success despite the talent, so our duty is to get them a diploma at the exit and a level of education.

3- Sporting: Become a professional for a dozen years and Moroccan international.

4- Work, [show] effort and always be better.”

Club and Country

Like Clairefontaine and other National Academies, it avoids the club versus country conflict. “Beforehand, young people from the academy, who are international, sign their first professional contract with the academy in addition to the training convention,” Larguet told KweséESPN (see

“The administrative and financial manager of the academy is in charge of the study and the follow-up of the solicitations of clubs for the player(s), in order to sign their first professional contract.

[a player is] Never promised to a club, unless a Moroccan club wishes to put his young talent in training at the academy – [then] there can see a return convention to his club home.”

In just nine years it has already delivered at the highest level.

“It provides players for the various national youth teams U15, U17, U20, U23, Local and A – in each team a minimum of 2, up to 6 or even 7 players,” Larguet says.

“Lately, in the WC Russia 2018: [Youssef] En-Nesyri, [Hamza] Mendyl [and Ahmed Reda] Tagnaouti.”

At the recent CHAN tournament in Morocco, which the hosts won, Academy graduate Tagnaouti was joined by Nayef Aguerd, who plays in France for Dijon.

Interestingly, despite Clairefontaine graduates featuring in France’s success, Larguet doesn’t think it offers a model for the Mohammed VI Academy to follow now.

“Not necessarily,” he says. “because Clairefontaine no longer has a team playing competitions on her behalf. It is a model of training in the French [system], but professional clubs’ training centers.”

However, he acknowledges the contribution of both Clairefontaine, and one of the coaches who contributed so much there, Francisco Filho, to the path taken by the Mohammed VI Academy under his leadership.

Africa’s Path

Few in Africa argue that something has to be done after the failure in Russia. Morocco already is, but Larguet modestly praises other nations.

“Some African nations have been ahead of Morocco,” he said, “Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Senegal, Tunisia, Egypt etc.

“But, obviously in Africa, this concept for development will be taken again and again.” In club terms, that may be true, but in terms of international football, Morocco’s Mohammed VI leads the way, and the FRMF has plans for four more academies, which will be run by the federation.

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