The picture of a bare-feet kid dribbling a football on a muddy surface welcomes one to the JMG academy portal. The words; A Man, A Vision, A Project then appears.
In a small way, the description sums up what Jean-Marc Guillou sought to achieve when he set out for Africa in 1990. The concept was clear to establish a centre for recruitment, training, and promotion of young talented players. The project was proving to be amongst the earliest football academies that would revolutionise African football.
Jean-Marc Guillou was a French footballer and coach. He was born in 1945. A midfielder of no mean reputation, he featured for SCO Angers before continuing his career with OGC Nice in the 70s. He was also a member of the Les Blues team and earned his last cap in the 1978 World Cup.
Like any other business venture, the Frenchman’s brainchild weathered challenges to later become the foundation of some of Africa’s best-ever football icons.
A model that saw kids being trained in strict observance of a philosophy of respect to the game and the greater service to humanity.
Ivorians like Emmanuel Eboué, Didier Zokora, Yao Kouassu Gervais well known as Gervinho and Kolo and Yaya Toure are the most significant examples.
Encouraged by this success, Jean-Marc Guillou applied this concept in other countries, Bamako in Mali, Algeria, Madagascar, Egypt, Vietnam, Thailand, and Ghana.
In Algeria, Paradou AC was established at Tassala el-Mardja, farmland located South of Algiers with Kheireddine Zetchi as its owner. It was the North African nation’s first private football academy. Far from the West where the vision produced the Ivorian Golden Generation, it’s in Algeria where it wrote another success of its own.
Djamel Belmadi’s 2019 AFCON winning team is perhaps the most recent. The team skippered by Manchester City Riyad Mahrez proved a class above its rivals and no lesser to the role that the academy had in the North African nation.
The group that achieved success with up to four players in the first team. Youceff Attal and Hichem Boudaoui, both of OGC Nice, and Ramy Bensabaini of Borussia Monchengladbach are all products of JMG.
For the latter, a chance to feature in the English Premier League would only be hampered by the country’s strict labour laws, that barred him from securing a work permit.
Paradou on its part continues its engagement in the Algerian top league, now on its fourth successive year in the elite.
Another of the famed academy product is Hamari Traore who is now a regular for Ligue 1 side Stade Rennais. He was among the squad to adorn the club’s recent history as they lifted their third Coupe de France title and first since 1971.
Four years ago, Amadou Haidara was playing in Mali for JMG, the midfielder fondly nicknamed Doudou has never looked back when he went for his pro- stint in Austria. He now features in the Bundesliga and the UEFA Champions League for RB Leipzing. Haidara helped his club to its best-ever run, reaching the semi-finals of the Champion League last season. He was on target this season in an epic 3-2 win as Julian Nagglesman’s side pipped Manchester United to the competition’s group stage.
Red Bull Salzburg’s Mohammed Camara is another academician who has cemented a starting berth with the Austrian team and played in the team’s Champions League quest in the 2019/ 2020 campaign.
Football academies continue to spring out across the continent. In Algeria for instance, the country’s FA has opened up 2 academies recently.
Hardly did Jean-Marc Guillou foresee his dream growing to achieve what it has to date. There is no doubt that the project not only shaped the growth of academies in Africa but also provided a window of opportunity for footballers to change their lives and that of their families.