Craig Bellamy Foundation Academy, Tombo
The Craig Bellamy Foundation Football Academy is located in some bare foothills overlooking the busy fishing town of Tombo and Yawri Bay. This is where the cream of Sierra Leone's child footballers are invited to live, study and be coached by Western professionals. For the moment, the boys live in one small white-washed barracks-style dormitory with classrooms adjacent to this, a communal dining area and the staff offices. New dormitories, bedrooms and classrooms are being built a few yards away. The first of the boys I meet introduces himself as Barry and is polite to the point of charming. Close by is Tom, an Englishman, who is head of coaching here and also writes for the BBC and South Africa's Super Sport.
I have been invited here to see the facilities, meet the boys, discuss the future direction of the CBF league and to join in the CBF staff & academy boys' football match. Currently they have one well-maintained grass pitch here with longer term plans to install a 3G artificial surface. The pitch would put many African professionally-tended playing surfaces to shame; the grass is long and half-green, half-brown in patches. This surface needs to be watered every single day in order to keep in up to the required standard. Around ten of the academy boys join us for a kick about, with all of the CBF staff, including the two resident females, mixed up into two 8-a-side teams. It is fairly apparent that the left winger, Suliaman Samura, has something that most coaches would fancy. Here is a boy in his early teens who already has the physique of a twenty-something man as well as pace, footballing skill and self-assured arrogance that he can take on any full back and beat him for fun. This lad is cumbersome to the point of clumsy which makes his body language almost impossible to read. The best way to mark this boy (who, by the way, has already had a summer session at Liverpool) is to sit off him and hope he makes an error rather than jumping in and being made to look like a clown. The majority of the boys are clearly talented individuals but let's say it isn't the most fun game of football I've ever participated in. When the right winger has already ran forty yards and beaten two players with ease, you just know that he is going to try and put the ball in the near post top corner instead of squaring it to you for what is a certain tap in from two yards out.
One thing I have noticed in all of the matches I have played in or witnessed thus far in Sierra Leone is that the back four always loves keeping possession among themselves. They play a bit like the Dutch except instead of eleven players making thirty consecutive passes without the opposition touching the ball, here it is the back four and goalkeeper that keep the ball between themselves for five minutes at a time. Press them with at least two forwards or you might as well retreat to the centre circle and have a cup of tea while you wait. Several of these boys will be given the opportunity to train with Cardiff; one or two with Liverpool, and another couple of them are set to move to the United States in the coming months.