by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (January 3rd 2009)
Feyenoord knows that the vast majority of aspiring players at their academy in Gomoa Fetteh will not make the grade in Europe. It is the nature of academies that failures outnumber success. While some will make it elsewhere, others will have little option but to seek careers outside of football. What happens to them? What will Feyenoord do for those boys? The key is to equip them for life – give them an education , so they can contribute in or out of football.
Karel Brokken, the Director of Feyenoord’s academy in Gomoa Fetteh gave us a lengthy and exclusive interview that will be featured over several issues of the magazine. “There is the football school, but at the same time there is also the official school”, says Brokken. “We are under the Ministry of Education. We do the exams like a normal school. We have our own teachers, six in all the subjects”.
Feyenoord’s Press Officer Gido Vader had told us that nobody left without a diploma, so what level of education was offered? “It’s the general diploma – an official diploma which they can take with them, with exams”, says Brokken, “so they are doing this and can take that away with them. It’s similar to secondary school. They are doing the same examinations”.
Naturally, some have failed their examinations and did not receive their diplomas, so what happens to them? “Well we try to help them while most of them are still in school”, he explains. “You shouldn’t forget that when we take them, some of them come from families that couldn’t even read or write, so we are already happy to help them learn to read and write. Also their interests in school is not easy sometimes. We teach them that they must learn to read. It’s good for your education. You can become a footballer, but to become a footballer you must also be somebody who is intelligent. You must learn”.
So how does Brokken keep his young charges motivated, not just on football, but in their studies too? “I tell them ‘Look I was also a footballer, so I wanted to be a footballer and I also forgot about my school, so it’s a big decision’”, he says. “I can understand, but look if you go in Accra or Kumasi, for example a lot of children are not going to school. All the parents cannot afford it. Sometimes we contact the parents. We write a letter”. The boys come to the academy aged 13, or 14 and can stay until they are around 20.
So who pays for all this? “Feyenoord”, says Brokken. “Only Feyenoord”. Neither the Dutch, nor Ghanaian governments contributed, but what about UNICEF? After all its flag flies proudly at the academy. Not even them according to Brokken.
“We are contributing to UNICEF”, he says. “We have a partnership with UNICEF for AIDS education. All our children go to peer education. They all regularly get courses on how to protect against AIDS and all these things and when we organise tournaments, then after the tournaments they go and educate people from their own ages, so there we are. That shows what we are doing”.
The Rotterdam club has an annual budget of around €40m and approximately €1m per year was spent on the Gomoa Fetteh academy, although they have recently found a sponsor to assist. When it was opened van den Herik got carried away with its potential and assured Feyenoord fans that it would produce quality players within five years. Vader concedes that these expectations were far too optimistic, so what would be a more realistic time-frame in a notoriously fickle, results driven business?
“Our main objective is that they go to Feyenoord, but that hasn’t happened yet,” says Brokken. Actually it did, but despite receiving a contract with Feyenoord, Mohammed Abubakari only wore Feyenoord’s famous strip once and that was for an annual friendly to raise funds for UNICEF. He has since moved on to play in Greece.
So how long before the long promised player finally appears and will Feyenoord remain patient? “Well I think it will take time”, says Brokken. “Normally it will take over ten years. Up to now they are still patient. They do not force things. If you come to Africa, and demand that they produce players quickly for the first team, then that will never work. For Feyenoord it is a school as well. They want players, but if he is not coming now you have to accept it. It isn’t something that can be rushed. It is a social project and you have to consider everything – education: football and everything.”
Quite true, but Feyenoord still want to see results. If the club are not showing impatience with the academy yet, some fans are. Feyenoord’s last match before the winter break featured a young team including some graduates of the Rotterdam academy. One of them, Diego Biseswar, had been there nine years before graduating to the first team.
Given space in the first half of the recent match against NAC Breda, Biseswar cut inside and unleashed a pile-driver into the top left-hand corner of Jelle ten Rouwelaar’s goal. It was a contender for goal of the season.
“I would say that it was a nice goal”, said Biseswar modestly. “The defender gave me a lot of space. I shoot and it went in. It’s a nice thing”. It was almost an injustice that his goal didn’t decide the match, but at least Feyenoord won 3-1 to halt a wretched vein of form, so was this the turning point? “I hope so”, he said, “because the second half of the season will be good for us”.
He had played with a couple of players from the academy in Gomoa Fetteh, but did not remember their names. So what does Biseswar, arguably a competitor for a place with a Gomoa Fetteh graduate, think of the academy in Ghana and when a player will come through from it? “I think soon”, he said. “I think the academy is a good academy in Ghana. I hope soon that they will”.
And as we were talking about Africa, what did he think of African football and the continent getting the World Cup for the first time? “Yeah; it’s nice for Africa”, said Biseswar. “They play good football in Africa. It’s nice. I hope that it will be a nice World Cup over there”. Meanwhile, Feyenoord supporters still await the first quality player from Gomoa Fetteh, which surely cannot be too far away. After all, it has already produced three full Ghanaian internationals.