FOOTBALL Academy Plus, which has been operating in South Africa since 2012, has opened its doors in Lesotho in an effort to scout young talent in the Mountain Kingdom.
The academy that was launched in Cape Town by Croatian born Sebastijan Ribic also has branches in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Polokwane and Pietermaritzburg with its Maseru base the first outside South Africa.
In an interview with the Lesotho Times, Ribic said he decided to establish a base in the Mountain Kingdom following a proposal by former LCS League winning coach Katiso Mojakhomo who extended an invitation to set-up a youth development project.
“Coach Mojakhomo showed a lot of excitement and hunger to do something big for football youth development in Lesotho,” Ribic revealed.
“This inspired me and we made an effort to visit Lesotho to make an investigation into the country’s youth football and development.”
Ribic said he was amazed with the talent he saw in Lesotho during their scouting programmes.
“I was very impressed with what I saw. It passed my expectations. The talent among the young players is indeed very exciting,” he said.
He said their focus would be on identifying young talent, nurturing it and helping the players secure contracts in the South African and other big leagues across the globe.
“What we do is that we select the best players, develop them as best as possible and promote them to professional teams locally and abroad” he said.
“The aim of our football academy is to help young players maximise their full potential in football, education and life.
“It puts well-being and personal development at the heart of everything we do. Our aim is to develop well-rounded individuals as well as high quality football players who are able to compete at any level globally.”
However, Ribic is well aware that they have a mountain to climb due to lack of proper football facilities in the country.
He believes the lack of infrastructure is the one reason Lesotho was still lagging behind the rest of the continent and has failed to export players to South Africa and other bigger leagues.
“I will say yes and no to your question about Lesotho not exporting players like other countries. Yes; because there is a lot of talent in Lesotho and it is difficult to believe that they have not made it into the big league in South Africa,” he said.
“And no; there are a lot of setbacks for these boys, coupled with very little to no exposure and this has therefore resulted in the lack of player promotion activity into the big leagues regionally or abroad.
For his part, Mojakhomo who won several league titles and cup competitions as the head coach of LCS in the early 2000 said he could not believe his luck when the Football Academy Plus responded to his proposal to establish a base in the country.
“I wrote a proposal to them and I was shocked how quickly they responded before we met to map a way forward,” Mojakhomo said.
“It took us a bit of time to establish the project because we had to meet with different stakeholders as part of our research of how to go about with the project.
“We have now started by hosting trials around Maseru to identify the young players for the first phase of our project and both sides are happy with how things have gone.”
Mojakhomo who has also had short stints in charge of bitter rivals Bantu and Lioli said his goal has always been to start a project that would help develop young talent. He, however, did not know how to go about it before meeting the Croatian who has injected funding and resources into the project.
“I am very honoured that Football Academy Plus bought our idea to have this project in Lesotho. I am working as their coach here and everything is going according to plan at this stage.
“My biggest goal within our first years of operation would be to open doors to our talented youngsters to win a contract outside the country,” said Mojakhomo.