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FIFA U-17 World Cup: ‘Outsider’ Paul Pogba the talisman for African newbies Guinea

Guinea youngsters have French Manchester United star Paul Pogba as the inspiration as they bid to emulate the top African football nations.

fifa u17 world cup 2017 Updated: Oct 11, 2017 19:27 IST
Rajesh Pansare
Rajesh Pansare
Hindustan Times, Margao
Guinea are currently bottom of their group in FIFA U-17 World Cup.
Guinea are currently bottom of their group in FIFA U-17 World Cup.(AFP)

In football circles, Guinea is famous as the land from where Paul Pogba’s family comes from.

While Pogba’s parents migrated to France before he was born, young Guineans have been inspired by the exploits of their ‘big brother’ playing at Manchester United.

“He may have not been born in Guinea, but he is very much a Guinean,” says Guinea FIFA U-17 World Cup coach Souleymane Camara.

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Pogba’s elder twins Florentin (he plays for Saint-Etienne in Ligue 1) and Mathias (plays for Sparta Rotterdam in the Dutch league) have already represented the Guinea national team. Both were born in Guinea.

Guinea football expansion

The country, crippled by years of political unrest, is slowly finding its feet, and so is its football. The passion in the game is evident from the fact that some 45 fans are in Goa to support the Guinea FIFA U-17 World Cup team.

“Of course, Pogba is a big role model for our young footballers. But players like Naby Kieta (RB Leipzig) and Francois Kamano (Bordeaux) are also inspiring them,” says Camara. “Life’s not easy in Guinea and youngsters find solace in football.”

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Their biggest export has to be Kieta. The 22-year-old was a main factor in Leipzig finishing second in the Bundesliga and qualifying for the Champions League. Next year, he will play for Liverpool, who have secured the services of the attacking midfielder.

But his rise wasn’t without struggles. “I had to learn to look after myself. After training, I had to ask people for food. But now I am in a position where I can help others the way others once helped me. I always think of my roots, of where I came from,” Kieta had told the Bundesliga website while discussing the life of an young footballer in Guinea.

Fringes to centrestage

The West African country, which shares borders with illustrious football nations Senegal and Ivory Coast, is still on the fringes when it comes to being counted among the continental heavyweights.

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But their football fortunes have headed north over the last few years. The Guinea U-17 team were third in the 2015 and 2017 African Cup of Nations. The under-20s came third this year.

“Qualifying for the World Cup shows we’ve very good juniors. There are a lot of good players at U-15, U-16s, U-17s; my job is to develop them for the senior team,” says Camara.

So, where does the talent come from? “Street football,” says Camara. Kieta too learned the tricks of the trade on the streets.

“That’s where most of our players come from. At grassroots, the foundation is not like the European countries. The federation is putting the structure in place, building centres in various parts of the country. The talent is there, these centres will help nurture them,” Camara says.

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Currently, most of the football activity is limited to capital Conakry, from where Kieta and other Europe-based players come from.

With Guinea hosting the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, they don’t want to be found wanting when the big guns of African football come calling.