For the purpose of the reading public, could you introduce yourself?
My name is Kumbi Titiloye. I am the Administrator of Football College Abuja. Football College Abuja is the brainchild of Gabriele Volpi, the chairman of Orlean Invest Africa Limited. Football College Abuja was set up four years ago, in January 2012 and we have our camp in Sunnyville Estate and we train at the National Stadium Package B in Abuja.
What informed the establishment of Football College Abuja?
The desires to change the financially-challenged kids, nurture them, bring out the talent in them and give them the chance to take care of their families in future led to the setting up of the football academy.
Looking back after four years, will you say you have been able to achieve your aim?
Yes, based on the timeline we gave ourselves, I can proudly say we have met our target and even surpassed that target based on the number of boys that have had the opportunity to play in Europe presently and the ones we are grooming now are also going to play in Europe also.
How many of them are playing in Europe now?
Eight of them are now in Europe; two of them are in Roma in Italy and some other boys are going to join them in future. Sadiq Umar and Nura Abdullahi are the two players playing in Roma currently, while some are going to join them later. We also have four boys in Serie B, La Spezia Calcio, Italy – David Okereke, Ayodeji Samuel, Theophilus Aondofa and Abdullahi Suleiman.
There are many football academies scattered all over the country. What do you think will make your academy different from the other ones?
Academies are set up for various purposes. However the model of Football College Abuja is that we screen every day. We don’t collect application fee or admission fee. Everything is free from boarding, education, feeding and training is absolutely free. So the reason we excel is because it is only the best that will come in. We recruit the best.
Does it mean the players are on football scholarship?
That is exactly what happens here. It is total scholarship as no player pays here. Instead they get allowances to buy recharge card and the rest.
The various academies in the country are expected to produce young players that will feed the national teams, how far have you in your four years of existence been able to achieve this?
Yes in the 2013 FIFA U-17 World Cup, Football College Abuja produced two players for the national team, Dele Alampasu and Alpha Abdullahi. And in the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup we were able to produce three players – Benjamin Amos, Orji Okonkwo and Kingsley Michael. Sadiq Umar, the one in Roma was recently invited to the national U-23 Olympic team. So it is work in progress for us.
We understand that Football College Abuja recently won an international tournament. Can you tell us more about that event?
Yes it was Mladen Ramljak tournament in Zagreb, Croatia. It was its 14th edition and we have been there twice and came third twice but this year we went there and were lucky and happy to have defeated Real Madrid youth team in the final to win the tournament.
It is a very good competition because teams all over Europe and the world come there and a lot of agents also come to watch and pick players. So, we are happy that we defeated Real Madrid 3-1 in the final to win the tournament. It is an 8-team tournament played yearly.
Where do we expect to see Football College in the next couple of years?
It is a circle. We have so far developed players in the past three years where we have developed boys from the ages of 14, 15 and 18 and we are going to continue this year. So it is a circle that will continue to develop the young talented players until we are able to acquire our own land where we will build our facilities and raise more players.
At what age is a player qualified to be admitted at Football College Abuja?
Basically we screen players from the age of 14 to 17. That is the age required for intending students.
So once you are above 17 years, you don’t need to come to Football College Abuja?
No, there is no need.
I know that it is difficult to get the exact ages of the players by just looking at their physical appearance. What mechanism do you use in knowing their real ages?
That is the challenge we face in Nigeria now. However, in Football College Abuja, we require so many documents from a child that can capture your data from nursery/primary school, and in case where a child is not educated to have gone to nursery or primary school, we ask for the birth certificate and before they go to the national team, we make sure they undergo the MRI test.
What will you say about the standard of football academies in Nigeria?
Nigeria is the only football power house where you do not have youth tournaments. Every other country, even Cote d’Ivoire the academies have their league and the clubs have their youth teams where they develop the players to graduate to the senior teams. But over here we have left it in the hands of the entrepreneurs, some of who do it for corporate social responsibility and others who do it for profit where students are required to pay to be trained, and some others are political.
So, it behoves on us football house to regulate how the academies are run so that it will be a seamless operation for our national team coaches who they can have a database for players to be picked for national assignment.
How does the technical crew of the college look like? Do you have Nigerian coaches who train them or do you have expatriates who do the job?
Yes we have four European coaches and three Nigerian coaches. So it is a mixed situation where you have a blend of European and African football.
There are soccer academies all over Nigeria churning out thousands of footballers every year while other sports suffer, do you intend to in future go into the training of athletes in other fields of sports outside football?
For now our focus is on football, however I will encourage other corporate bodies to help invest in the development of other sports because just like you rightly pointed out Nigeria is not only about football. We have talented players in basketball, handball, badminton and other sports. So I think it will be good for our country if corporate organisations that patronize the federal government try and do something in that direction.
You said Abuja Football College is like a football scholarship which means the players are being trained free. So where do you get your funds to run the college because football is a capital intensive venture?
Yes we are funded by Orlean Invest Africa owned by Mr. Gabriele Volpi and we are also supported by two clubs – La Spezia Calcio of Italy and HNK Rijeka of Croatia, so based on what we have done so far, we are encouraged to do more for the academy.
How many students does the college have at the moment?
We have 60 students.
If you are to quantify the scholarship in monetary terms, how much will you say the college is spending on each of the students per year?
To develop a child in a year, a rough estimate, based on what we have done so far is put at N4.8 million for each student per year.
Having worked at the Kwara Football Academy before, how will you compare the two institutions?
There is no basis for comparison because one is a private entity and the other one is a government establishment. Kwara Football Academy obviously has the best facilities concerning football development in Nigeria, but Abuja Football College is a new idea which private entrepreneurs have decided to develop here.
So, what is the level of facilities development at the Abuja Football College?
We are still looking for land because this is something that will develop Nigerian youths. So we are still discussing with the FCT Administration to see how we can get allocation from the FCT to develop the academy.