Sporting success in Africa may be traced back to ancient times, and the continent is now widely regarded as one of the best in the world. In the last several decades, Africa has been a major source of dynamic athletic talent that spans a wide range of sports. Several well-known African athletes have become household names throughout the world as a result of their success in a variety of sports. Because it brings people from all walks of life and backgrounds together, sports have widespread esteem throughout the continent, and the African economy continues to benefit from the athletic business even now.
Football is without a doubt Africa’s most popular and preferred sport. Football is a thrilling sport that dates back to the 1800s when British, French, and Portuguese colonialists brought it to Africa. Football, unlike other sports, needs fewer resources, and as a result, it has spread across Africa. Football is popular among young people throughout the continent, particularly in rural places. Football talent in Africa often develops at the grassroots level, and many football players started their careers on local football fields. Because the sport is popular among Africans, the number of professional football clubs and competitions across the continent has steadily increased. Without a doubt, sponsorships from both the public and commercial sectors assist to increase football’s appeal. Egypt, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Tunisia, Cameroon, and Nigeria are among the top African nations noted for their football prowess. South Africa made history in 2010 when it became the first African nation to host a World Cup.
On Feb. 4, the Senegalese Football Federation (FSF) claimed another triumph by lifting the African Nations Championship after beating Algeria in a penalty shootout.
They now become the first African country to simultaneously hold the continent’s two most prestigious prizes as they beat another African nation, Egypt, in a penalty shootout to claim the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). This is along with 2019’s west African Nations Cup, 2022’s Africa Beach Soccer Cup of Nations, qualified for 2022 FIFA World Cup before being eliminated in the round of 16 to England, qualified for 2023 Beach Soccer World Cup, 2022 Women’s AFCON quarter-finalists, qualified for U17 AFCON, qualified for U20 World Cup and recently reached the finals of the U20 AFCON.
They have been finalists in 4 of the last 5 editions but this 2023 edition of the U20 AFCON is where coach Malick Daf and his Young Teranga Lions are creating records. In 5 games, they’ve earned 5 victories, scored 12 goals, conceded none, and possess the best offense and defence with 6 different goal scorers.
Known for its Teranga, which means hospitality, and praised for its cultural vibrancy—its dynamic sports, arts, and culture scenes are where Senegal is increasingly making its presence felt across Africa and globally. And at the vanguard of these successes are national pride and culture.
The team’s senior players have helped create a more global and outward-looking brand. One of the team’s superstars, Sadio Mané, has often said he would trade all his honours at the club level for an Africa Cup of Nations win with Senegal. And it is not just on the field where this team is charting a new course after lifting the AFCON 2021 in Cameroon.
It was the culmination of the entire team’s sacrifice, vision, and admiration for their country. But it wasn’t the team’s victory alone. There are many moving parts behind the scenes that facilitated this momentous event.
Senegal is investing more in sports
Senegal’s Ministry of Sports, which has given their football federation autonomy to make independent decisions, acted as a critical facilitator on the journey to greatness. The ministry has focused on important long-term work, such as building and refurbishing stadiums, while Senegal’s federation continued to back their coach.
Aliou Cissé embodies the Senegal spirit of Teranga, or family and sharing. Most of Senegal’s success came from his tactics.
It’s clear to see that the manager sees football more like a game of chess, rather than an art form. All of his formations, line-ups, and substitutions are calculated. His analytical approach to the beautiful game helped Senegal rise to the top of Africa.
Cissé being the head coach for Senegal established a continuity rare among African national teams. His tenure has helped him set up an established play style. Traditionally, he’s played very dynamic formations like the 4-2-3-1 and the 4-1-4-1, where you can not only be solid and compact on defence, but also very aggressive on offense.
Senegal’s famous win over France 20+ years ago was cast as a victory for “France B”, perhaps as Patrick Vieira had chosen to play for France rather than the country of his birth. But in reality 21 of Senegal’s 23-man squad in 2002 were born in Senegal, and the two France-born players didn’t start a single game between them. During the World Cup in 2022 in Qatar, nine of Senegal’s squad were born in France, while goalkeeper Seny Dieng was born in Switzerland. Ismail Jakobs, born in Germany and a regular in their U21 side, switched nationality so late that his place in the squad was uncertain on the eve of the tournament because of administrative problems processing his passport. Nicolas Jackson, from Gambia, qualified because he was raised in Senegal.
Of the 27 called up by coach Aliou Cissé for the AFCON 2021, eight players were trained by two academies founded in the early 2000s, which corresponds to just over a quarter of those selected.
Generation Foot academy, launched in 2000, can claim to have placed four of its former residents in Senegal’s team. With Sadio Mané as technical leader, we noted the presence of strikers Ismaila Sarr and Habib Diallo, and midfielder Pape Matar Sarr.
The Diambars Academy, founded in 2003, also had four footballers in the squad. They are Idrissa Gana Gueye, Saliou Ciss, Joseph Lopy and Ahmadou Bamba Dieng.
Since the launch of the league in 2009, the two clubs of Generation Foot and Diambars have won respectively two league titles (2016 and 2018) and a title of champion of Senegal (2013).
He was neither a resident of Generation Foot nor of Diambars but Ibrahima Mbaye was trained in an academy called Etoile de Lusitana, a training centre less famous than the first two mentioned.
Senegal’s progress as a nation has not been confined to the football field. The country’s stadium refurbishment drive comes ahead of the 2026 Summer Youth Olympics in Dakar. This will generate tourism opportunities for the country, which is moving forward on several fronts.
With an economy growing at positive growth rates per annum coupled with efforts to position itself as a cultural and creative capital, brand Senegal is headed towards a positive trajectory to capitalize on these positive gains. The country is poised to be a leader for West Africa and even continental Africa in terms of economic growth.
And the cultural and creative sector, as a result of the sports ecosystem, can drive additional growth.
Infrastructure projects related to sports stadium refurbishments and construction, such as the Diamniadio Olympic Stadium and the Dakar Arena, are launch pads to boost economic activity. The investment in sports stadiums and development structures will showcase Senegal’s investment in state-of-the-art infrastructure.
The $2 billion (1.25 trillion FCFA) futuristic Diamniadio Lake City, influenced by Senegal’s indigenous culture and landscape, is slated to feature entertainment facilities, an industrial park, and state ministries. These positive wins will make the country an attractive destination driving intra-African tourism, which should spur economic growth.
The spirit of Teranga is needed to lead the continent towards a regionally and economically connected Africa, and Senegal is well-positioned to take the reins.
Senegal’s academy model to train future football stars
The Génération Foot academy, located in the village of Déni Biram Ndao, 40 kilometers north of Dakar, has seen the big stars of the national team: Sadio Mané, Habib Diallo, Pape Matar Sarr or Ismaïla Sarr.
“All of Senegal wants to come here,” smiles Bassouaré Diaby, the head trainer at Génération Foot, a football academy a few hours out of Dakar, the capital. It is easy to see why. Three verdant training pitches abut a small stadium complete with corporate boxes, a video-analysis suite and a briefing room for press conferences. Players as young as 12 live on the site, which also has a gym, a lycée to make sure aspiring footballers complete their schooling, and a barbershop. The players should all “be well groomed and in the same way”. “That’s part of discipline,” he says, adding: “We have put in place everything to give the boys the best chance to perform.”
It is working. More than 15 current players, who joined the academy after extensive scouting and trials, represent Senegal in youth teams.
Everywhere in the premises of the academy created in 2000 are displayed the portraits of these great footballers who make the 117 young people currently in training dream. At the origin of the project, Mady Touré, wanted to create a centre “to provide great footballers to Senegal”. A successful bet: with eighteen players selected for the national team, the president of Génération Foot, both a training centre and a professional club, prides itself on being one of the “providers of Senegalese football”.
After more than twenty years of hard work, the professional club is now playing in Ligue 1 of the Senegalese championship and the training centre covers eighteen hectares, with two large football fields, a third synthetic one under construction, a boarding school and a high school. Here players are supported for free.
To finance this project, Mady Touré counted from the start on a partnership, first tied with the club of Nancy then with FC Metz, which still accompanies them today. “Since FIFA has established regulations that prohibit the transfer of minors, I thought we needed a centre in Senegal where the players do their pre-training. Then the most talented continue their career at FC Metz when they are over 18, explains Mr. Touré. The French club makes its choice according to its needs.
The partnership is “win-win” according to the businessman: on the one hand, the Senegalese academy benefits from Metz funding to offer training in good conditions. And, on the other hand, the French club recovers two to four players each year, many of whom were then “sold well”. Some were even transferred very quickly after their arrival at FC Metz, like Ismaïla Sarr who left for Rennes after a year for 17 million euros (11 billion FCFA).
Mady Touré has resigned himself to this flight of African talent to Europe. “We send players to China, Morocco or Guinea. If the door is open to all, we have a preference for the European market,” concedes the businessman. “We can’t afford to pay quality players enough to keep them in Senegal,” justifies Mr. Touré, who calls on the authorities to subsidize the clubs to keep promising footballers in the country.
To give maximum chances to these young people, the academy has adopted a program to help players improve their skills. “They must gain speed and have technical qualities because football has become very fast”, explains Bassouaré Diaby, director of the training centre for three years. Another aspect also affects the mind, to ensure that footballers can be “playing under pressure and never giving up even when it’s hard”.
Because less than 5% of young people in the academy will succeed in building a real professional career according to Mady Touré, “we insist on studies so that they are qualified and educated”, he explains. In high school, sixty-seven students are taking classes from lower sixth to final year, with a 100% success rate in the baccalaureate in 2021. “We also offer professional training in communication, for example, to offer them opportunities”, continues Mady Touré.
Funded by the FIFA Forward Programme, national youth leagues were introduced in Senegal in 2020, with the stated goal of improving the competitiveness of young players and preparing them for the upcoming 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. Since then, these competitions, which have also been opened up to girls, have been in full swing right across the country, and the Lions de la Teranga won their first-ever Cup of Nations.
“Young boys and girls are often left out, the technical and tactical work is there, and efforts are made by the clubs and academies, but overall they lack competitions. By creating this type of project, we encourage young people from diverse backgrounds to compete against each other. These events enable us to reinforce the work already done by the clubs and football academies.”
The competitions, run at U-15, U-17 and U-20 level for boys and U-15 and U-17 level for girls, are arranged in the form of leagues that are played throughout the year all over the 14 regions that make up Senegal. “It’s a real opportunity, even a dream, to be able to take part”. “The league provides the chance to play against other clubs, and consequently to discover other football cultures, and to gain experience. In short, to make progress.”
And with the increased level of competition come higher stakes. Of course, there are potential national titles to add to CVs, but there are also scouts from the country’s largest clubs to win over. “This league gives us the visibility that we need”. “Our players hope to secure a contract with a big club one day, which will enable them to then help their friends and family. It’s our source of motivation; it’s what pushes us to keep improving.”
What can Cameroon learn from Senegal’s story?
Football is Africa’s national pastime, but the national football associations and the local football clubs are sometimes plagued with symptoms similar to those found in the African governments – corrupt leaders, inadequate training facilities, lack of funding, disputes between ethnic football clubs, and the extraction of Africa’s best players to the European leagues. Despite these obstacles, Africans compete as equals on the world football stage – going to the semi-finals of the FIFA world cup, winning FIFA junior world cups, and winning Olympic gold medals.
Application of the Football Development Model in future African development efforts can potentially affect countries in the following aspects: better football governance, sports-economics, social aspects, and integration into the international football community.
Only 15 African states have a GDP higher than $15.6 billion (9.7 trillion FCFA). Likewise, sports and football can be influential in the social and individual living aspects. Right from its beginning, football was a working class game that allowed the English neighbourhoods, with a multitude of industrial jobs and unions, to bond into larger entities that resulted in civic/national pride and helped the working class insert itself into the economic and political framework.
This same phenomenon is occurring in Africa, and will increase as Africa’s middle class continues to grow. Participation in football provides individuals with an opportunity to set and achieve goals, maintain their personal fitness, enjoy the comradeship of teammates, and potentially, make a career of the game. Thus, even though one may not initially associate sport and football as important components of governments, the sports clichés – sport begets dreams, sport instils discipline, sport teaches organizational skills, sport fosters civic involvement, sport brings disparate people together, sport maintains health, and sport is an economic activity – are indeed important to any government.
The culmination of the relationship between Africa and FIFA is FIFA’s awarding the World Cup 2010 to South Africa, but that event in itself demonstrates Africa’s ability to negotiate FIFA politics. It had been a long road as Africa achieved equality in both the football pitch and in FIFA politics. FIFA’s advertisements for World Cup 2010 demonstrated this equality. Their “Win in Africa with Africa” program states, “In essence, ‘Win in Africa with Africa’ is not about sending aid to Africa so much as providing the continent with the tools to progress and the skills with which it can continue its own development.”
The Football Development Model for Cameroon involves the following:
Grassroots Fundamentals in the Rise of Cameroonian Football – For any skill to be learned, adequate training must be provided. In the case of football, FIFA, in cooperation with the national football associations, has created a wonderful system for training coaches, players, and officials. Football has been grouped into technical skills (like dribbling, passing, and tackling), tactical skills (like team formations and controlling the midfield), and psychological skills (like being prepared to play). Coaching these skills has been organized into various levels, where a specific set of training is provided followed by a written test and a demonstration test that result in a certification for that level, with the levels roughly corresponding to beginner through professional. Properly trained coaches are then prepared to organize practices for beginners, intermediates, advanced, and professionals. FIFA has organized a similar system for referees and officials. The African associations did not solely negotiate financial aid from FIFA, but rather funding support that included establishing grassroots training in the fundamentals of football throughout Africa. This fundamental grassroots training will allow football to prosper at all levels of the Cameroonian society.
Accepting Imperfection in the Cameroon Football System – Three areas require improvement: playing conditions, the pay structure of the clubs, and movement of Cameroonian players to the European leagues. The playing conditions, for both practice and matches are not equal to those in Europe. At the grassroots level, the fields are often uneven without grass. Similar conditions exist for the club practice facilities. The club and national stadiums are sometimes rather old and in need of repair, which has resulted in several stadium accidents. But a country that could produce Mbappe Leppe, Theophile Abega, Roger Milla, Joseph-Antoine Bell, Thomas Nkono, Samuel Eto’o, Vincent Aboubakar and many others in such substandard conditions can do more today more than ever if accepting the imperfections and improving on them becomes its mantra.
The standard sports related platitudes – physical fitness, confidence building, uniting different social and ethnic groups, and establishing civic and national pride – are applicable to Cameroonian football; an infusion of grassroots aid and training that allows Cameroon to grow its own experts in the area of interest. Famous Liberian footballer, Josiah Johnson, said, “Football is like a biscuit, you never know how it is going to break.”
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