The best player, the best goalkeeper and the top scorer in the U20 Africa Cup of Nations are all Senegalese
On 11 March, the Senegalese U20 National Team won the Africa Cup of Nations by defeating Gambia 2-0. Led by Malick Daf, the team performed impressively throughout the tournament, winning all of their matches, scoring 14 goals and not conceding a single one. The Senegalese players also won the best player, top scorer and best goalkeeper awards of the tournament.
This continental triumph follows a dominance performance by Senegalese footballers in 2022, when Senegalese National Team won the prestigious Africa Cup of Nations for the first time, ending 16 unsuccessful attempts and two semifinal defeats on penalties (2002 and 2019). Led by Kalidou Koulibaly and Sadio Mané, the players triumphed with a victory over seven-time champions Egypt.
But that was not all. Eight months later, the Beach Football Lions claimed their seventh title by winning the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, while the national team scored a historic victory at the African Nations Championship in February. In addition, the deaf team won the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations, the first time a country won all of the continent’s official trophies in a single year. Senegalese teams are managed by local coaches, including Alioune Cissé and Pape Bouna Thiaw. This new generation of coaches is well prepared for the challenges of modern football.
Years of investment
The development of Senegalese football is the result of continuous efforts and tireless perseverance. According to Augustin Senghor, president of the Senegalese Football Federation (SFF), this is the result of long-term investment and a solid vision implemented by a national management team that values local expertise. Thanks to the full management autonomy granted by the Ministry of Sports, the SFF has been able to undertake major projects such as the construction and renovation of stadiums.
According to Senghor, a tremendous amount of work is being done at all levels, from amateurs to professionals, with constructive criticism from the press. This cooperation embodies the spirit of the “Manko Wutti Ndamli” (United to Win the Cup) of the federation. This synergy between the federation and the ministry has facilitated the work of the Lions.
“Manko Wutti Ndamli” brings undeniable added value to Senegalese football and acts as a catalyst for victories. The national team’s victory in Africa Cup of Nations has changed the mentality of the players, who now want to “win the cup.” The state authorities, especially President Macky Sall, rewarded the Lions after each victory by providing playing fields and a considerable amount of money. The return from the competition has been greeted with enthusiasm by the population, showing that football has become a social force in Senegal.
Senegalese President Macky Sall personally travelled to Léopold Sédar Senghor military airport to welcome the Lions of Teranga, who had just won their firstever Africa Cup of Nations
A social boom
Senegal has made tremendous strides in the world of football, raising its profile at the continental level thanks to continuous efforts to develop youth over the past two decades. Senghor stressed that clubs, both professional and amateur, have played a crucial role in training young players, contributing to Senegal’s rise in the football world.
Mamadou Koumé, a journalist and academic, is a leading authority on sports and Senegalese football in particular. He notes that the SFF has actively taken matters into its own hands and set up two training centres for the national teams. Due to these facilities, preparation for competitions has been optimised and the development of talents such as Sadio Mané, Gana Gueye and Bamba Dieng has been encouraged.
In Senegal, football training centres and academies are experiencing exceptional growth. The Diambars Institute, founded in 2000 by footballers Saer Seck, Patrick Viera, Bernard Lama and Jimmy Adjovi-Bocco, is Senegal’s first football academy. Since 2003, Diambars has trained numerous African talents in collaboration with prestigious clubs such as Olympique de Marseille. Another influential academy is Génération Foot, founded by footballer Mady Touré and famous singer Youssou Ndour, in collaboration with FC Metz. Both play an important role in providing numerous players for the Senegalese national teams.
Other training centres include Dakar Sacré Coeur, a member of Senegal’s football elite and partner of Olympique Lyonnais. In addition, Paris Saint-Germain has invested in Senegal, opening a football academy in Ngaparou, 80 km south of Dakar, in May 2021. Demba Ba, a former Senegalese international, has also invested 3 million euros ($3.28 million) in the construction of a centre in Malicounda, not far from Ngaparou.
In addition to training talent, football schools are also a lucrative channel for Senegal. As Chérif Sow, communications director of the Diambars Institute, explained, “The sale of players is the main source of income for the Diambars Institute, which also relies on the training bonuses for the transfers of its former students during their careers. This premium is between 5 percent and 10 percent of transfers.”
The Beach Soccer Lions team pose for a photo with President Macky Sall (centre)
Launch of professional league
After a crisis that led to a two-year interruption of the championship, Senegal launched a professional football league almost a decade ago. This important step has allowed clubs to modernise and meet international standards. According to Koumé, training players to sell is now an obligation for clubs, and he stresses the need to reinvest in training.
Senegal, which topped the FIFA rankings for the African region for five consecutive years, has slipped to second place behind Morocco since the last World Cup in Qatar in 2022. However, they still top the list of the continent’s most valuable national teams, with an estimated market value of more than 340.9 million euros ($372.8 million), according to trade site Transfermarkt.com.
According to a study by France Football magazine, Senegalese footballers also star in the five most prestigious European leagues (Germany, England, Spain, France and Italy). Players with dual citizenship such as Kalidou Koulibaly, Abdou Diallo and Ismael Jakobs have chosen to represent Senegal.
The authorities’ efforts to provide the country with a first-class sports infrastructure are also noteworthy. An ambitious programme to build stadiums across the country is underway, including the famous Abdoulaye Wade Stadium in Diamniadio, which has now been completed.
a fourth-place finish. After an absence of 18 years, the 1986 team beat Egypt, the host country and eventual the African champion, in the opening match in Cairo.
Reporting from Senegal