The Brasseries football school is an institution in African football. Since 1989, it has been training apprentice footballers so that they can join the biggest clubs in the world. Former trainees who also make the happiness of the Indomitable Lions, the selection of Cameroon. Report in Douala within the academy.
Vincent Aboubakar, Clinton Njie, Ignatius Ganogo… His three players have one thing in common. Apart from the fact that they are currently arguing for the African Cup of Nations (CAN) in Cameroon in the ranks of the host country, these three Indomitable Lions were trained in the same place: in the prestigious football school of Brasseries du Cameroun (EFBC), one of the oldest academies on the continent.
Nestled not far from Carrefour Ndokoti, the nerve center of Douala, the academy is a small haven of peace in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the monster traffic jams that are the daily life of the district. Barricaded behind the yellow and red walls, the young people trained here can calmly concentrate on their dream: to become a professional footballer like their prestigious predecessors Samuel Eto’o or Rigobert Song.
“I know I can have my chance”
“The school is a great training center here in Cameroon. Great glories have passed here, I know that I can have my chance”, explains David Mimbang, 14 years old. This defensive midfielder who is attacking his third year in the academy, dreams of joining Montpellier, like in his time Roger Milla, the Cameroonian legend who passed through the lawn of La Paillade.
The academy was founded in 1989 by Brasseries du Cameroun, a subsidiary of the French group Castel. A philanthropic work for young people, the school has gradually become essential in the country’s football landscape. In the ten regions of the country, all the children dream of being one of the eleven chosen for the six-year course.
Since 2008, the EFBC has adopted a sport-study model with the children housed on site. Everyone has their place under the mosquito nets of the three dormitories, one per age category: U14, U16 and U18. Jacques Elimbi, current president of the football school, and Jean Flaubert Nono, general manager, arrived to bring this new version of the project.
“Cameroon is the Brazil of Africa. It is a country where there is a lot of talent but where there was no structuring of training. This academy has made this possible by producing players who have played in very big clubs, while strengthening the national team of Cameroon”, explains Jacques Elimbi, the good-natured leader of the academy. “We are preparing the next generation.”
footballers and men
Training footballers, but above all men, such is the credo of the Cameroon Breweries school. “Here we obviously inculcate football by helping young people to exploit their talents, but at the same time we explain to them that not everyone will become professional. So we also have to teach them how to become men in order to integrate into society. This is why we insist on school, discipline and moral ethics”, notes the president. “We try to make them keep their feet on the ground and reframe them.”
To this end, the academicians are subject to an almost military rhythm. Up at dawn, the trainees go to school outside the academy. They return from there in the afternoon to, after a restorative nap, carry out their training. At the end of it, their day is not over: head for tutoring to make sure that school remains a priority. Then it’s the meal and then the well-deserved rest before starting again the next day.
“At the beginning, the pace was difficult. We get up early. There may be weight training or training in the morning. But as you get used to it. If you want something, you have to know how to make sacrifices . But that’s what we like to do. So you have to train every day”, notes David Mimbang, determined to hang on.
Far from a normal life
“These are children aged 12 to 18 who do not live a normal life for their age. But they already have a dream and a goal. It is our responsibility to reconcile school and football. We know that not everyone will be not professional footballers but they give themselves all the means”, affirms Jean Flaubert Nono, the general manager.
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From the top of his 53 years, the leader of the academy has a long career in football. Originally from Lyon, he is the brother of Jean-Jacques Nono, an emblematic OL defender in the 1980s. Rather than the lawn, he preferred to opt for management.
Within the EFBC, he takes care of everything with benevolence but also authority. When he speaks, we listen. When he calls, we come running. When he asks, we execute. If he does not directly coach the youth teams, they still watch training out of the corner of their eye. On that day, the U14s and U16s each occupy half of the pitch. The coaches vociferate their instructions. On the menu: ball handling, ball circulation exercise in two touches of the ball. “Intensity!” Claims one of the coaches.
Under the eyes of the elders
All around the field are plastered huge posters highlighting the big names who have passed through the academy. The winning team that achieved the double at CAN 2000 and 2002 on the one hand, the winning team of the 2017 edition on the other. A way to inspire young people on the lawn.
“When we see these photos, it motivates us. We say to ourselves that our dream is possible”, smiles David Mimbang, who would dream of playing the World Cup and the CAN with the Indomitable Lions.
Elders who remain attached to the Douala Academy. “When they come back, it’s as if they found their family”, assures Jean Flaubert Nono who likes to see these professionals working with young people.
“It’s a moment of happiness for the little ones. They touch their dream,” says the general manager. “It’s also an extraordinary time saver. They will hear the old man tell the same things that their coach repeats tirelessly every day. But, when it comes from Rigobert Song, inevitably it has more impact.”
Michel Platini Weladji – his parents were fans of the French legend of the 1980s – is also a former member of the Ecole des Brasseries. However, unlike Samuel Eto’o or Vincent Aboubakar, he did not manage to turn professional. But Jean Flaubert Nono found him another role: coach with young people to train the next generation.
“I pick up newcomers and I help train them. I make them work on their coordination, their balance. I know my failures, so I try to help them so that they avoid my mistakes. In my time, we were external. From now on, they are housed and fed at the academy. I repeat to them that it is a chance, “explains the manager of the U14s.
A talented generation
Training is good, but competition is better. To prepare them as well as possible, the EFBC makes it a point of honor to have its trainees play regularly against other teams. In an already unstructured Cameroonian football, the youth championships are the poor relation of the federation. So the club takes things in hand, it completes the calendar with meetings against other schools and with three tournaments organized by the Brasseries du Cameroun.
“At the Limbé tournament that we organized in December, we won for the first time in all three categories. The best of the sixteen teams each time”, says Jean Flaubert Nono proudly. “The trainees are more and more serious. Thanks to the example of their elders, they know that they have a real chance. They are talented and the succession is assured.”
A historical example of African training, the football school of the Brasseries du Cameroun must now face increased competition: with the reign of money king in world football, the race for young players with high potential has gone crazy these latest.
“Some academies show themselves on land and are only interested in money…”, plague Jacques Elimbi.
To remain competitive, Brasseries du Cameroun can count on their detection model. Each year, at the time of the major holidays, they organize the “Top Cup” – named after a brand of soda – in the ten regions of the country. The top 100 take part in the final in Yaoundé and only eleven children join the academy. The competition represents the Holy Grail for all apprentice footballers.
Still, for the moment, the club does not directly offer prospects to its trainees. Having a professional team is “not on the agenda”, according to Jean Flaubert Nono. He also does not have privileged relations with a single club like Génération Foot in Senegal with FC Metz, preferring to send their apprentices everywhere thanks to their address book. The period after school can therefore be stressful for academics.
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“I hope I will succeed in getting a contract in Europe. That’s what I’m waiting for now. I’m ready to turn pro,” worries Loïc Dieudonné Ntoko, 17, in his final year of studies. “My dream is to play for PSG. Idrissa Gana Gueye is my idol.”
He probably hopes that his chance will come quickly, as it did just before the AFCON for Carlos Noom Baleba. This nugget of the EFBC has signed up for 5 seasons with Lille, reigning French champion, where he joins the Indomitable Lion Ignatius Ganogo.
Find the video report by Laura Mousset