After weeks of careful planning and preparation, it gives me great pleasure to announce that the first edition of Challenge Afrique will be taking place later on this month in Senegal.
The event, which has been co-organised by Scout7 together with the Diambars Academy, will see six elite under-18 teams taking part in a series of friendly matches in the city of M’Bour over six days from 28th November-3rd December.
Every game will take place privately at the at the Institut Diambars, with invited professional scouts in attendance, allowing each player an opportunity to showcase their ability in front talent spotters representing some of Europe’s leading clubs. More than twenty clubs from seven different countries have already confirmed they will be sending scouts, which is a number increasing on a daily basis.
Having first visited Africa back in 2005, hosting this event is a significant milestone for me personally and for Scout7. It is the culmination of many relationships that we have developed and nurtured with many of the game’s stakeholders across the continent during the past decade.
During that time I have visited youth tournaments held in several countries around Africa and seen, first-hand, local players who have gone on to move to leading European clubs or earn senior international recognition.
One such player is Moustapha Diallo, who played for Cote d’Ivoire at the 2009 CHAN Championship, a tournament for senior players who play their domestic club football in Africa. His performances captured the attention of EA Guingamp’s Chief Scout Stephan Carnot and just a few months later, he signed for the club on a permanent contract. Six years on, he remains a key player in their first-team squad in Ligue 1 and I am delighted to say that he has agreed to become an official ambassador for Challenge Afrique.
Guingamp midfielder and Challenge Afrique ambassador Moustapha Diallo
To ensure we host an event which meets the best professional standards befitting some of Africa’s leading development centres, we have put together a team of advisers who have helped us with the planning, organisation and with securing strong participating teams. These advisers include the co-founder of Diambars Saer Seck, who is also the President of Senegal's domestic professional league.
He is joined by Japhet N’Doram, who is best known for playing, coaching and holding the role of Sports Director at Nantes, as well as winning dozens of international caps for Chad. Our advisory group is completed by the former Head Coach of the Senegalese National Team, Boubacar Sarr, who played for many professional clubs in France, notably Paris SG and Marseille.
Before each game they will be championing the values of respect, professionalism, sportsmanship and fair play to every player taking part, which is something which we are keen to encourage so that the games are played in the right spirit.
With their help, we have attracted some outstanding teams to participate. Given they are hosting the matches, it will come as no surprise that the first team to confirm their participation was Diambars.
For those unfamiliar with Diambars, it was founded in 2000 by Saer Seck, Patrick Vieira, Bernard Lama and Jimmy Adjovi-Boco. As well as providing local players with a footballing education, their residential academy has a commitment to providing their players with a strong academic education.
A video introduction to Diambars
As well as core subjects, players at Diambars are given language lessons and it is not uncommon for their players to be able to communicate in as many as three different languages by the time they graduate. Since its inception dozens of their players have gone on to play in Europe, including current Premier League players Pape Souaré and Idrissa Gueye.
One of the teams Diambars will face is the Mali-based branch of the JMG Academy. Founded by Jean-Marc Guillou 21 years ago, JMG is probably best known for bringing through many Ivory Coast internationals including the brothers Kolo and Yaya Toure, Salomon Kalou and Didier Zokora.
Their centre in Mali was opened in 2006 and that too has seen many players migrate to Europe. Their most famous export is Adama Traoré, who is now playing for Monaco after being named Player of the Tournament at this summer’s FIFA U20 World Cup.
As well as these two academies, we are also welcoming three under-18 club teams. Two are domestic teams from Senegal: Generation Foot and Dakar Sacre Coeur. Generation Foot have an official link-up with FC Metz and have developed many players who have gone on to play for them, notably Papiss Cissé, Sadio Mane and Diafra Sakho. As for Sacre Coeur, two of their former players were part of the Senegal team which reached the U20 World Cup semi-finals this year - Moussa Koné and Ibrahima Sy.
Our third club team is Horoya AC, who are based in Guinea. Their first team are the reigning domestic league champions and their President, Antonio Souaré, has made a significant personal investment in the building of a brand new national development centre, which is due to be completed in 2017 and will benefit many future generations of Guinean prospects.
The final team is a national U18 selection from Morocco, who are using Challenge Afrique as an opportunity to bring a national pool of players together as part of their preparation for their upcoming 2017 CAF U20 Championship qualification campaign. Fédération Royale Marocaine de Football are Scout7 clients and have enjoyed plenty of success on the international stage this year, notably when their U23 team reached the final of the Toulon Tournament, with a squad made-up entirely of domestically-based players.
Given this is the first Challenge Afrique event we have organised, we are absolutely delighted to have attracted teams of such a high calibre. As well as being renowned for developing future professionals, each team also has a proven commitment to providing its young players with a strong educational grounding, which is something that has been very important to us to differentiate the project from other training camps.
In addition, during the period these games are taking place, a major competition will also be taking place in Senegal just a few kilometres away: the CAF U23 Cup of Nations. This competition features eight teams who as well as vying for the honour of being Confederation Champions, are also looking to secure one of Africa’s three spots at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Challenge Afrique has been scheduled deliberately to avoid clashes with these games, with our matches taking place in the morning. This will mean that club scouts will get the opportunity to attend both tournaments if they choose to travel to Senegal.
Boubacar Sarr was present when we finalised the event schedule earlier this week
If club scouts want to attend our matches, we still have a few places remaining so if you would be interested in watching them please email me at email@example.com.
My colleague Pierre Michaud will be publishing match reports throughout Challenge Afrique, which will be posted through dedicated social media channels, whilst all friendly information, including squads, teamsheets and match video will be available in the Intelligent Sports Framework post-event.
It will be fascinating to see how all the participating players get on over the six days of matches and who knows, maybe in five years’ time we will be talking about a player who competed here who then went on to establish a professional career for themselves at a European club, just like our ambassador Moustapha Diallo did six years ago.
I genuinely hope that this will be the first of many successful editions of Challenge Afrique and if you are one of the twenty-plus scouts confirmed as attending, I look forward to seeing you there!