The world’s best soccer club is looking to Africa for its next superstars

Samuel Eto’o (left) played  alongside Brazilian legend Ronaldinho at Barcelona.
Samuel Eto’o (left) played alongside Brazilian legend Ronaldinho at Barcelona.
Image: Reuters/Albert Gea
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FC Barcelona, the current champion of European and world soccer, is seen as the gold standard in the game. And in the last decade, some of that success is due to players from Africa, such as Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o and Ivory Coast’s Yaya Toure.

Now, to facilitate the flow of talented young players from the continent, Barcelona is going to the source. The club is setting up a satellite of its famous La Masia youth development academy in Lagos, Nigeria—hoping it will find the next Lionel Messi in Africa’s biggest city, with a population of 21 million. Barcelona’s academy directors have sealed permission from the city’s government to set up shop in Nigeria’s commercial nerve center.

The academy, the first of its kind in the region, will be looking to unearth the best football talent in Lagos and, likely, the West African region. There is no fixed timeframe for when the academy will become operational, but Lagos state governor Akinwunmi Ambode has already pledged full support to accelerate the project, saying in a statement that his government will do “whatever it is that we need to do to ensure that this project takes off as quick as possible.”

Setting up an academy in Lagos will be a significant boost to the state’s sports infrastructure, and will provide aspiring soccer players with a first-class academy to fine-tune their talent. Barcelona’s academy also adds to Lagos’ growing reputation as a sports destination. The city successfully hosted an international marathon backed by the International Association of Athletics Federations earlier this month and has been picked by the Confederation of African Football to host the African Beach Soccer tournament later in December.