Abidjan, Ivory Coast | The Jules Rimet World Cup trophy has been touring Africa, and the Times of London has tagged along. Fortunately, Owen Slot beats his own path through Angola, Ivory Coast, Togo and Ghana—the continent’s new entries in the 2006 finals—for a five-part series, which began Monday in the newspaper’s weekly football supplement, The Game. Immediately, the disconnect between prodigious talent and lack of infrastructure becomes apparent. Kolo Touré of Arsenal and Côte d’Ivoire learned on a bare patch in the Adjamé slum quarter, and while it may seem as if everything worked out in the end, Slot adds in a later story that Touré’s success “is the cause of a massive social problem.” Namely, some 300 football “academies” have sprung up in Abidjan, although few, if any, provide the education from which Touré and others benefited at Académie ASEC MimoSifcom. Instead, parents are bilked of limited funds or, if their progeny do succeed in finding places with small European clubs, their earnings do not make it back to African shores, but stay in agents’ pockets.
Slot picks up on other particulars of African football: that the main phone line for the Togolese football federation does not work. Angola’s national stadium, on which construction started in 1977, is still unfinished. Uganda’s leading club, SC Villa, has signed a deal to supply maize and rice to the World Food Programme to boost finances. And Slot speaks at length to Pascal Théault, director of the Abidjan ASEC academy, about Théault’s discovery of Moussa Guindou, a teenage player originally from Mali. Guindou’s delight at joining the academy and, for the first time, handling a writing implement led to his running between two chalkboards “furiously scribbling” for 20 minutes. “I tremble when I tell people about Guindou,” says Théault. “My life has changed since I came to work in Abidjan. I thought I knew everything in football, but I didn’t know about football and real life.”