Faith In Grassroots
The President of the Malian football association, Salif Keita – the first ever African Footballer of the Year in 1970 and Europe’s second-highest goalscorer in 1967 with 42 goals for St Etienne – learned about the importance of grassroots football during his career in Europe.
In the 1980s he was the association’s national technical director, but left his post due to a lack of support from officials for his youth development project. “I had devised a development plan for Malian football based on training centres similar to those I had seen in operation at Nantes, St Etienne or Benfica, but the board weren’t interested because they were looking for instant results,” says Keita.
In 1994, he founded a football academy named Centre Salif Keita (CSK), which includes a first division football team. The centre has produced players of the calibre of Mahamadou Diarra (Real Madrid) and Seydou Keita (Lens), who was named player of the tournament at the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship in Nigeria.
Thanks to Keita’s pioneering football academy, Mali’s youth team began to produce good results such as the third place achieved at the World Youth Championship in Nigeria or reaching the quarter-finals of the FIFA U-17 World Championships of 1997 and 2001.
“Mali is one of the few African countries which have developed a genuine grassroots football project. Training is the only route to success and I don’t know of many African associations that have a training programme worthy of its name,” says German coach Joachim Fickert, who has worked for his country’s association and has also been national coach of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Rwanda and Benin.
In addition to the Centre Salif Keita, there is an organisation named ACEFOOT (Association of Football Training Centres and Schools), which was founded in 2002 and has 56 affiliated centres.
The most promising of the young players to have emerged is Centre Salif Keita’s striker Boubacar Bangoura of Centre Salif Keita, who was included in the African U-18 squad that recently took on their counterparts from Europe in the Meridian Cup.
Some of the members of Mali’s current senior side are products of the training centres and are only young, which means they still have a lot to give over the next three years in their bid to fulfil their country’s dream of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.
“The problem is that here, just like everywhere else, people want to win and see instant results,” says Salif Keita with trepidation. Which means that the fans first want to see Mali qualify for next year’s African Cup of Nations in Ghana.