The programme of "Football Dreams" is a unique humanitarian project whose goal is to empower the youth of the world by identifying, nurturing and providing life skills and an education to football talent scouted throughout the globe.
It is a chance for thousands of 13-year-old boys in developing countries to demonstrate their skills in order to receive an educational scholarship and a chance to fulfill their dream of reaching the heights of international football. For the selected few, AFD provides a holistic development including private school education, coaching, international friendly games, social, medical and sport scientific support, accommodation and food.
The idea of starting Football Dreams was born in 2005, when Aspire Academy and stakeholders in Qatar looked for a way to support developing countries in combination with helping local Aspire talents in their development. Given the philosophy and background of Aspire Academy, providing scholarships and giving young players the opportunity to get a profound education within the best possible environment to be able to start a career as professional football player, seemed to be the best fit.
More than 3.5 Million Participants
The programme was kicked off 2007 in Africa, involving seven countries and 430,000 young football players. Since then, AFD has kept on growing: In 2008 an extension to Asia and Latin America took place, and a satellite branch of Aspire Academy was installed in Senegal. Between 2007 and 2014, more than 3.5 million kids have been screened in 17 countries, with 18 to 20 scholarships awarded each year. So far the programme has involved over 6,000 volunteers and over 150,000 11vs11 games on more than 800 football grounds.
A thorough Selection Process
In the first stage of the selection process the registered boys participate in 25-minute-long 11 vs. 11 games. The best players go on to the second phase where they participate in another round of 11 vs. 11 games, where they are analysed by international scouts to determine the top 50 players in their respective country. The selected players are hosted for half a week in the country's main city to be assessed by AFD-scouts and Aspire Academy experts to determine the best players. The top two to four players of each participating country and the best three goalkeepers head to Aspire Academy in Qatar for the final testing phase. This takes three weeks and leaves the 18 to 20 of the best players with a scholarship so they can pursue the way to becoming a "Champion in Sport" as well as a "Champion in Life".
The Perfect Bridge to Professional Football
Being part of the Football Dreams programme offers the selected boys an educational programme at a private school as well as a comprehensive football training programme under the guidance of experienced international staff. In order to provide a responsible transition from youth to elite senior football the most promising AFD-players – after completing the AFD-programme and turning 18 years of age – are offered the chance to become professional football player at the Belgian club K.A.S. Eupen.
A proven success story has been Senegalese national team player Diawandou Diagne: After going through the AFD-programme and playing two seasons in Eupen he was signed by FC Barcelona in 2014. For fellow AFC graduate Henry Onyekuru, Eupen became a stepping stone to English Premier League club Everton in 2017.
It is not only football clubs that profit from the high-quality training players receive at Aspire: So far, more than 40 of the scholarship recipients have represented their national football associations (including Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Thailand, Paraguay and Mali) from U17 to senior national teams. No players have been naturalised or represented Qatar, as this is not the aim of the project.
Football as a Humanitarian Network
The work of Football Dreams in developing countries is not just about fulfilling the dreams of young players who want to play at a professional level and receive a good education. Aspire Academy also uses its global network for good, built up through Football Dreams for the "Football Combating Malaria" project, another CSR-initiative that runs in co-operation with the Lionel Messi Foundation. This potentially life-saving humanitarian project was launched in 2013 with FC Barcelona-star player Lionel Messi in Senegal, the starting point of the initiative. As for Aspire Academy, Lionel Messi’s involvement is voluntary and not profit-oriented and has the only goal to prevent Malaria from spreading any further.