One of the world’s biggest and most successful clubs, Barcelona is launching a football academy in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub.
The academy, in Africa’s biggest city, is the first of its kind on the continent. It is modelled along Barcelona’s flagship La Masia Academy in Spain which has produced stars such as Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Xavi.
Officially known as FCBEscola Lagos, the school is temporarily located at the multi-sports Teslim Balogun Stadium Complex in the sprawling Surulere suburb.
A bright banner of the Spanish midfielder Iniesta greets you as you enter the main gate.
Inside an assortment of big pictures of Barcelona star players Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar can be seen amongst commercial advertising boards.
Children aged between five and 18 years old file into the stadium to get a football education the Barcelona way.
About 400 fee-paying children are currently enrolled at the school, which costs $600 (£478) a year.
They attend training sessions at the academy about once a week and all of them harbour hopes of making it to the big time at Barcelona’s prestigious La Masia Academy in Spain.
Teamwork over individualism
Among them is Imalashe Sulyman from Yaba in Lagos.
She is one of just three girls at the academy.
“I like being here because it is very friendly and fun to play,” she says.
“It doesn’t bother me because football is not only for boys, it’s for everyone to play. You shouldn’t be treated differently anyhow because you are a girl.
“I want to become one of the famous football players and be as good as Messi.”
The Lagos academy joins a growing list of other similar Barcelona football schools across Asia, the Americas and Europe.
The Catalan club uses the schools to popularise its brand and transmit the club’s philosophy and values to the rest of the world. The philosophy emphasise the importance of teamwork over the individual.
Among the top 10 European clubs, it is the only one with a football academy on the African continent.
Other top clubs such as Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Manchester City and Juventus have so far not done the same.
The academy has already started attracting children from in and outside Nigeria.
“This is a Nigerian fountain that is going to sprout. Like they say about great oak trees, it starts from a little acorn and that’s the acorn you are seeing right now,” says Leslie Oghomienor, Barcelona’s partner and the school’s administrator.
“We don’t just have children from Nigeria here, we have some from Spain, Taiwan, India, Greece and other Asian people.
“We are going to give them international exposure. We are going to Barcelona in April to play against other people so that they can see what we are doing. The world has to know there’s something good coming out of Africa in Lagos, Nigeria.”
The Barcelona allure means a lot for many of the children at this Lagos school.
David Niu from Taiwan, lists Argentinean forward Lionel Messi, who trained at La Masia as a youngster, as his idol.
He described the school as a place “which creates the vibes that every Barcelona player should have”.
“I want to get to the academy the La Masia in Spain… that’s what I want to achieve.”
Asked if he would consider a call from Barcelona’s arch rivals Real Madrid if they come for him, he gave an emphatic: “No.”
Somagbe Ipedumi, from Ikorodu in Lagos, lists Neymar, the Brazilian star player, as his favourite Barcelona player and hopes to follow in his footsteps.
“I am always dreaming of being at Barcelona and it is a great opportunity to be here. It’s a great privilege for me,” he said.
“It’s not about power, it’s about supporting your teammates and keeping possession of the ball. From here, I think I am going to go places.”
The Lagos academy is an opportunity for Barcelona to tap into the abundant football talent out of Nigeria’s 170 million people.
Bernat Gorriz, the school’s technical director, says there is a lot of potential in Nigeria.
“The good quality that African people have is the physical condition, they have good physical condition so if they can learn and they can understand our way of training, I am sure that we can have very good players here in Nigeria.”
Asked if the next Lionel Messi could come out of Nigeria, he said: “I don’t know if ever we will see another player like Messi but of course we are going to teach these kids how to be like Messi.”
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