Diambars for story tease
Vieira's Diambars is Senegal's football dream factory
02:39 - Source: CNN

From sand, to grass, to Europe? Senegal’s football dream house

Diambars for story tease
Vieira's Diambars is Senegal's football dream factory
02:39 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Diambars is Senegal's top football academy, co-founded by Patrick Vieira

Access to its stellar facilities and training is free, but highly competitive

The boys dream of playing pro football in Europe, but the school prioritizes studies

Dakar CNN  — 

For 13-year-old Amar, it’s Real Madrid. For 17-year-old Junior, it’s Marseille.

Like so many boys, their dream is to travel from Africa to Europe and follow in the footsteps of footballing legends like Yaya Toure and Patrick Vieira.

But unlike most, and thanks to expert training, the boys at Senegal’s Diambars football academy have a fighting chance of realizing this ambition.

And if the dream doesn’t materialize – which it won’t for the majority – the teenagers are being schooled in the idea that success doesn’t just mean soccer glory.

“It’s possible that they won’t succeed in football, but they will in life,” Moussa Kamara, Diambars’ technical coaching director tells CNN.

“Diambars is above all about making men, men who otherwise wouldn’t have had a career, able to succeed in life, to have families, become heads of businesses, ministers, presidents and model men for emerging Senegal. It’s not just about football.”

Football for education

It’s a vision shared by the school’s four founders: to give back to society what football had given to them.

One was former Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira, who rose from humble roots in Senegal’s Dakar to win three English Premier League titles and four FA Cups. He also became a world and European champion with the France national team.

He was joined by French goalkeeper Bernard Lama (Lille, PSG) Beninese defender Jimmy Adjovi Boco (RC Lens) and Saer Seck, the President of Senegal’s football league.

Read: Inside China’s $185m football factory

The goal is to utilize the energy bursting from every sandy football pitch and pavement kickabout, turning it into a driver for education.

In Senegal, only 34% of boys and 27% of girls attend secondary school, according to UNICEF figures, and at 58% its literacy rate is among the lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa. For most, the pressure to earn a living, often through farming or fishing, crushes the luxury of choice.

Moustapha Fofana, 24, comes from a suburb of Dakar. His father earned a living selling eggs from the capital to the south, while his mother stayed at home to look after his brother and sisters.

“My mum and dad both ended their schooling very early,” he says. “There were times when it was very difficult – my family wasn’t well off. I didn’t pay much attention to my studies – I only wanted to play soccer.”

Now Moustapha’s outlook has radically changed.

After his footballing skills earned him a place at Diambars aged 13, his focus on school and soccer secured him a full scholarship to the University of Louisville in the U.S.

A freshman there since September, he’s still hopeful of a career in pro football – but studies are also central to his plans.

“My dream is to graduate here, and in the future to create a company to help my family have a better income,” he says. “And also to do something to help Diambars – it’s the least I can do.”