For a football hotbed like Nigeria, meaningful pathways for youngsters to pursue their football dreams can be hard to come by, but thankfully, that is all set to change with the birthing of the Stars Builder Academy, a grassroots talent development factory that aims to grow the next generation of Nigerian football talent.
By targeting emerging talents in Africa’s most populous country, Stars Builder Academy aims to hone the potential of thousands of promising teenagers and prepare them for professional football, thus providing them with a path out of poverty.
“We set Stars Builders Academy up to harness the young talents we have in the country knowing full well that we have over 60 to 70 per cent of the Nigerian population on the youth level,” Kayode Temenu a director at the academy tells busybuddiesng.com.
“We have a lot of young talents here and we feel it’s an area where we can contribute to the development of the country in our own way; so, myself and some couple of friends came together to set up the academy.
“It is still very new but we have big plans for the academy.”
Based in the sleepy Southwestern town of Ijebu Ode, Stars Builder Academy which held its first training session on 8 February 2021 performs a vital service in a country where professional clubs don’t necessarily have the resources to have extensive youth recruitment networks.
Without academies like Star Builders to provide opportunities for football development to aspiring footballers, many talented youngsters will slip through the net, taking their dreams with them.
Currently, there are 18 players within the 16-years age bracket living in the academy’s facilities where they hone their craft under the expert guidance of Gabriel Ezema, a youthful but extensively experienced LaLiga trained coach.
So, how were the players selected? Temenu says the players were scouted from all across the country and selected into the academy’s residential programme based purely on their promise and talent.
Ezema who helped Rangers win the NPFL title in 2016 and the Federation Cup in 2018 tells busybuddiesng.com of qualities he looks for in promising youngsters.
“First, you get to look out for young players with a lot of quality with a lot of talent and focus a lot on speed because speed is a very key factor in modern football,” he says.
“You focus on intelligence in terms of decision making, first touch, final balls and focus on other minor details like what they do off the ball – off the ball movement, support, runs, defensive situations.”
Players who satisfy the set criteria are accepted into the programme where Ezema sets about moulding them into well-rounded but grounded footballers adept at both the tactical and psychological aspects of the sport.
“The next level is to try as much as possible first, to develop the players,” he says. “Make the players understand the game, develop the technical, tactical aspect also, of course, the psychological aspect, the social aspect.”
“Players need to have better orientation, players need to have a better attitude, a lot has been said about African players and their attitude we have to begin to shape all those in terms of the philosophy.
“First we have to instil discipline, we have to let them know that football is a process, it is not a “one-step jump.” It is a gradual thing and with time, they will get to have the opportunity to further their career within the country or outside the country as the case may be in the next level for them as footballers.
“The bigger goal, the bigger picture is for Nigeria as a country to continue to produce the best quality of talents that you can find anywhere in the world.”
While Ezema trusts himself to make worldbeaters of the rough diamonds under his watch, the harsh reality is that not all these starry-eyed teenagers will eventually make it to the professional cadre in the country or abroad.
This reality was an important consideration for Temenu and his team when they set about designing a systemic but holistic approach to developing the individual.
In this regard, Temenu says Stars Builder Academy hopes to follow in the footsteps of Ghana-based Right to Dream Academy and Qatar’s Aspire Academy both of which combine world class education with first-class footballing instructions providing the individual with fall back options if a career in football doesn’t work out.
These are part of the “big plans” Temenu hints at for the nascent operation but says more details will be revealed in due course as the budding operation stabilises.
“We really wanted to model the academy in line with some other similar academies all over the world,” he says. There is [Right to Dream] in Ghana, then Aspire. Those are the academies we really want to model ours on.”
“We’ve started on a very good note and we’ve selected some of the best coaches we can find around in the country, from the coach to the assistant coach, to the physiotherapist, to the academy managers who are very experienced and I believe we are building stars which goes in line with our name as well.”
At the moment, Temenu says there are no plans for Stars Builders Academy to become a professional side down the line as they intend to remain a breeding ground and conveyor belt of world class Nigerian talents.
“The focus is to remain an academy and also be a pipeline for players in Europe as well as some age-grade competitions in the national teams as well,” he says.
And Ezema believes these goals are entirely achievable especially given the vision and commitment of the Academy’s directors.
“The success percentage is very high. I’ll say the success percentage is over 90% because we are working with a management that understands the management of football, the management of a setting like this,” he says.
“There is no perfect organisation but they’ve been doing excellently well in terms of providing all necessary resources for us to succeed and they’ve also been supporting us monetarily and otherwise.
“So I think that all we need to do, all we owe ourselves is to develop the best quality players and make sure that we continue to do that consistently.”