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Sports Features of Monday, 30 March 2015

Source: Nii Ayitey Tetteh

From Drobo to Manchester: Right to Dream Academy shows the way

By Nii Ayitey Tetteh

“Success is the sum of small efforts - repeated day in, day out” These words continue to reverberate in my ears long after hearing them. You may know the source of those profound words to be Robert Collier, but for me it even had greater relevance when parted from the lips of 17 year old Collins Tanor, a student at the Right to Dream (RtD) Academy. Indeed, Collins and founder of the Academy, British social entrepreneur, Tom Vernon, would know all about small efforts and big rewards.

When Tom started the Academy with a handful of kids in 2000 on a dusty pitch in Accra, he did so with a simple objective: to provide those underprivileged kids an opportunity to combine sport and education to build better lifestyles for themselves and their families. Tom’s small effort in 2000 has today morphed into an impressive US$2.5 million purpose-built facility, located 20km south of Akosombo in the Eastern Region of Ghana. The facility is a fully-residential international school, offering scholarships to talented kids selected from all over West Africa. That is where I met Collins and though I may have gone there to mentor the students, I left inspired and more hopeful about the development of youth football in Ghana.

“Death” of the colts

In the last decade, any close observer of the Ghanaian football landscape would have noticed the weakening of major developmental structures that ensured consistent production of talented footballers. That the national premier league generates little interest and produces little or no bona fide stars is a major concern for all stakeholders. The root of that problem lies in the gap created due to the weakening structure at juvenile level. Prior to the year 2000, Ghana’s juvenile football system, known colloquially as colts football, was very vibrant with clubs like Kotobabi Powerlines, BT International Great Farcos, Prisco minis etc competing at very high levels. These colts tournaments and championships were organized at U12, U14, and U17 levels and players who went through the mill were well groomed before joining premier league teams. Most of Ghana’s greats like Mohammed Polo, Abedi Pele, and Stephen Appiah all went through this system where they were managed by well-trained coaches and managers who were genuinely interested in their development.

The colts system thus ensured a conveyor belt of talent who transitioned properly, fed the junior national teams, and eventually the Black Stars. However, at the turn of the century, football reached a commercialization peak and with that a proliferation of entrepreneurs who were more interested in player profit than player progress. Gone were the well trained coaches to guide the players and the genuine football managers to ensure a holistic technical, physical and mental development of players. Rather these entrepreneurs traded off systematic and time consuming development for easy identification of the next big potential to sell off to clubs in Europe and Asia for a quick buck. Though the colts may not have died completely, (indeed the quantity of clubs has increased; 700 clubs nationwide; 249 in Accra alone and more than 20,000 registered players), the quality of talent has decreased and has lost its strategic role in youth development, creating a big gap that needs filling. This dire situation is what makes the RtD Academy even more appealing.

Birth of an academy

With the colts system in coma, one would have feared the worst for youth football, but thankfully, the RtD Academy is providing another outlet for talent development. The name of the Academy provides an insight to its guiding principle, which is that every talented child has the right to dream of a better, brighter future and can reach their full potential when nurtured within the right structure and environment. That is the dream that brought Collins to the Academy all the way from Drobo in the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana. Collins, who is a central midfielder and a big fan of Cesc Fabregas, joined the Academy when he was only 10 but has since gone through moral, intellectual, spiritual, physical and mental education that would position him to be a great footballer, an outstanding intellectual, and a role model in future. He has had opportunities to train at Manchester City and when he graduates later in the year, he is hopeful of joining the big leagues just like other famous RtD alumni David Accam, Mohammed Abu and Abdul Majeed Waris, or immediately follow the path of recent RtD graduate, Yaw Yeboah, who was named MVP at the just ended African Youth Championship in Senegal. Collins will be one of the over 100 graduates who have followed the two main pathways the Academy provides; International student-athlete scholarships, through which 35 graduates have been awarded full scholarships to leading universities, private boarding schools and colleges in the US and the UK; and Professional football contracts, under which 24 graduates have signed professional football contracts. Whichever pathway Collins follows, you can be guaranteed that he will make an effort, day in, day out, till he successfully completes the journey from Drobo to Manchester City and beyond. Collins’ story should inspire young folk out there to continue dreaming, after all, we all have the right to.

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