In recent weeks it has been hard to avoid articles on Barcelona and their wonderful youth academy at La Masia. With 8 out of the current Barcelona first 11 coming up through their own ranks, La Masia is being quite rightly admired and envied by many in football. However, there is one youth academy which rivals Barcelona in producing a truly staggering number of top-class players, and that is Sol Beni.
Sol Beni: Africa’s crown jewel
Sol Beni, for those that don’t know, is the youth academy of ASEC Mimosas, the Ivory Coast’s most successful and decorated team. They have won the domestic Premier League 23 times and the African Champions League once, and they hold the world-record for unbeaten league games, going 108 games without losing between 1989 and 1994. The most impressive thing about this club, however, is how often they churn out footballers both for Europe’s top leagues and the Ivorian National Team.
A bit of history
The Academy at Sol Beni was started in 1993 by ex-footballer Jean-Marc Guillou, who would prove to be a very important figure in the development of future Ivorian talent. A complex with football pitches, dorm rooms and a school was built. In less than 2 decades it has transformed itself into the most prestigious and successful academy in Africa.
If you doubt Sol Beni’s credentials, I suggest you take a look at some of the many players that it has produced. The most notable that spring to mind for any English fans are the Touré brothers at Man City, Arsenal’s Emmanuel Eboué and Chelsea’s Saloman Kalou. Former Portsmouth striker Aruna Dindane hails from Sol Beni, as does former Tottenham midfielder Didier Zokora. Other top players to roll off its production line in recent years include: Gervinho (Lille), Seydou Doumbia (CSKA Moscow), Didier Konan Ya (Hannover), Romaric (Trabzonspor), Gilles Yapi Yapo (Basel), Bakary Koné (Lekhwiya), Lacina Traoré (Kuban Krasnodar), Arthur Boka (Stuttgart), Sékou Cissé (Feyenoord) and Bonaventure Kalou (older brother of Saloman).
Now while not all on that list will be household names to a Premiership fan, it is truly remarkable to think that they were produced by the same club in such a relatively short space of time. Of the 19 players that the Ivory Coast named in their recent squad for the African Nations Qualifying match against Benin, 10 were produced by ASEC and Sol Beni.
So the next time that you read or hear about the next Messi or Xavi that La Masia has produced, spare a thought for Sol Beni – Africa’s crown jewel.