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Last Updated: Friday, 15 February 2008, 11:04 GMT
Charlton focus on Ivorian future
By David Ornstein

ASEC Mimosas defender Troh Cesar
ASEC's 18-year-old defender Troh Cesar dreams of playing in England
Young English footballers do not possess the same motivation to succeed as their African counterparts, says Charlton chief executive Peter Varney.

Charlton's partnership with one of the most famous football academies in Africa, Asec Mimosas, has enabled them to sign five players from Ivory Coast.

"These players have a natural hunger to be successful because that secures their future," Varney told BBC Sport.

"Perhaps the difference here is that, materially, kids have it all too soon."

Charlton are entitled to feel they pulled off a major coup by agreeing a deal with the west African-based club in May 2006.

Asec currently play in the Ivorian Premier Division in Abidjan - the largest city in Ivory Coast - and its academy, founded by the former France international Jean-Marc Guillou in 1993, has produced the likes of Arsenal's Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue, Tottenham's Didier Zokora and Chelsea's Salomon Kalou.


Fourteen of the academy's past and present players were members of the Ivory Coast squad at the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations.

Under the terms of the agreement, Charlton are part-funding the academy and will host two footballing visits per year in exchange for first refusal on emerging players.

"It's the best academy in Africa," said Varney. "The whole programme is completely different to Europe in the way they deal with the players' education and their training.

"They live on-site and the coaches work on the technical development of the players far more than we perhaps do in this country - I think we could learn a lot from it.

"We invest, and actually part-finance, their academy to make sure it continues to exist and then there is an arrangement by which we can take the better players and give them the opportunity to play with our other partners around Europe."

Peter Varney
People will look back at what we are doing in five years time and say Charlton had the vision to set this structure up around the world and from that have come these players who they didn't paying huge fees for

Peter Varney, Charlton chief executive

Asec's first visit to south London took place this week when a selection of the first team squad, preparing for the start of the African Champions League, took on a Charlton reserve side at the Championship club's training ground.

Two of the five players Charlton have signed, 18-year-old striker Gohi Bi Cyriac and 19-year-old midfielder Deble Serge, were on display for the visitors and Serge opened the scoring with a stunning second-half strike.

There was little to chose between the two sides for much of the match but Asec's superior technical ability, strength and stamina shone through in the latter stages and their 2-0 win was sealed when right-back Alli N'Dri swept home a clinical move.

"We are all fortunate to be in this academy so we work hard," says Asec's 18-year-old centre-half Troh Cesar, who idolises Arsenal's Toure.

"It would be a dream to play in the English Premier League and I would love to play for Arsenal like Kolo."

Charlton's signings are all registered to the Football Association in England but are, or will be, placed at clubs in European countries whose work permit regulations are less stringent.

Defender Soro Bakary has been farmed out to Germinal Beerschot in Belgium while forward Ismael Beko Fofana and midfielder Konan Serge Kouadio are playing for Norwegian side Fredrikstad.

When the players qualify for a European passport, a process which usually takes two years, they should be eligible to join up with Charlton.

"With the emergence of African nations at the various tournaments over the years we feel Africa is definitely part of the master plan for the globe," said Varney.

ASEC manager Patrick Liewig addresses his team pre-match
ASEC manager Patrick Liewig addresses his team before kick-off

"But we can't compete with the top clubs in terms of signing players for the here and now so the strategy was to get associations with a number of clubs in key territories around the world and get in at academy level so that the best players can come to us."

Such thinking has resulted in Charlton establishing partnerships with clubs such as Valencia in Spain, Shandong Lunend in China and Ajax Cape Town in South Africa.

"This isn't about Charlton getting three players from the Ivory Coast next week," said Varney.

"This is something we will look back on in four or five years time and somebody will say Charlton had the vision to set this structure up around the world and from that have come these players who they didn't paying huge fees for.

"If you're signing a Didier Drogba or a Kalou when they're the finished article Charlton aren't able to compete in that market. By doing this we are able to compete."

But while European sides continue to reap the benefits of Academie Asec's production line, the club itself - spearheaded by Pascal Theault since Guillou's departure - are under pressure to continue producing talent amid increased competition.

The academy used to have monopoly over Abidjan's young players but, as ever-increasing numbers of boys dream of a move to Europe and agents look to capitalise on the desire of European clubs for African players, over 300 academies have been formed in the city.

ASEC celebrate winning the African Super Cup in 1999
Guillou (left) leads ASEC to the African Super Cup in 1999

Meanwhile, the domestic game in west Africa, which fails to attract the same levels of investment as north Africa, faces a precarious future.

"Everybody is looking at the Africa Cup of Nations and saying Africa is getting better but I'm not sure of that," says Benoit You, Asec's director of marketing and communications.

"Ivorian people know the results of matches involving Chelsea and Arsenal but they don't know the results between Asec and another Ivorian team.

"We can't afford to keep the best players in Africa, the stadiums are very bad, the pitches are not good, we don't have TV rights and it's not possible to sell kits because people don't have money.

"It's possible that in the long term Africa will purely become a feeder for European football. I hope it doesn't happen but it's becoming very difficult for the clubs."

A particular problem arises when European sides cherry pick Asec players for small fees without entertaining the idea of investing in the club long-term.

That is where Charlton have bucked the trend and not only will their partnership enable them to sign tomorrows Toures and Zakoras, but it will also go a long way to guaranteeing the survival of Africa's most famous football academy.

For more on the development of grass-roots football talent in Africa, listen to Fast Track on the BBC World Service at 1600 GMT on 15 February.

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14 Feb 08 |  Premier League
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07 Feb 08 |  African
The scramble for Africa hots up
28 Jan 08 |  African
Asec claim 15th Ivorian cup win
01 Oct 07 |  African
Ivorian academy breeding success
26 Apr 04 |  African
Asec's golden age
04 Dec 02 |  Africa


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