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It was planned, and then it became a reality. Taking advantage of the local transfer window (23 January–15 February), the Association of Ivorian Footballers (AFI) organized a four-day training programme for its free players - those who are unemployed.

 

This football training camp, the first of its kind in the Ivory Coast, began on Wednesday 6 February and ended on Saturday, the 9th of the same month.

 

Simple and clear were the motives of the AFI: it wanted to give players whose employment contract had been terminated a chance, free of charge, to continue expressing themselves with the ball at their feet. An opportunity, without precedent in the Ivory Coast, for players to remind potential employers of their existence, all the more so as in mid-season a certain number of clubs were anxious to get a little fresh blood into their workforce.

 

With this highly commendable good deed, the Ivorian union went beyond its basic commitment to defend the rights and interests of its players, and exercised one of its no less important privileges. The former international Brahima Koné (selected 96 times for the Elephants), who is also responsible for the AFI’s relations with clubs, is very pleased about this.

 

‘It’s a way of helping all these talented players to get back into a club, or in other words to have a job.’

 

And Koné adds, ‘Organizing this kind of training programme is essential for us. Looking after the interests of players also means being able to respond to their needs and expectations, supporting them throughout their career, and even beyond that once they’ve hung up their boots in the souvenir cabinet. Sadly, unemployment sometimes interrupts the course of a professional footballer’s career. We have to help players who are confronted by it, support them, suggest solutions to them. Nothing is inevitable.’

 

This first experiment turned out to be a sizable challenge. But, working in complete harmony and guided by a team spirit capable of moving mountains, the staff of AFI did not balk at the task. From the general coordinator to those responsible for communication and club relations - even the accountant - everyone put something of themselves into it.

 

A project like this one unites people at all levels. The AFI had to fight hard to obtain the premises of the Treichville Sports Park and its beautiful synthetic turf, in order to welcome the trainees under the best possible conditions. It was also necessary to fit out all those present with a strip, T-shirt and shorts, and to provide medical support. As is quite normal in a club...

 

‘The AFI is acting only in your sole interest. It’s your association. You must take hold of it, so that together we can make Ivorian football forge ahead’, insisted general coordinator Sarra Cissé, speaking for President Cyrille Domoraud.

 

Former international Blaise Kouassi also spoke encouragingly. ‘The AFI is your defender. It plays the role of adviser and motivator. At present you don’t have a club, but after this training programme, some of you will find a place to go. Because there were club executives and trainers in the stands, watching you. This simply means that even those who don’t have a contract are important in our eyes. We are all footballers, and we must help one another.’

 

The players had been waiting a long time for this opportunity, so they did not hang back. Large numbers came: around sixty stormed the Sports Park on the second day of training, and for good reason. ‘It’s very good for us who have no club. We have a chance to play some friendly matches, and possibly land a new club. I hope I can manage to do that’, murmurs Fofana Aboudramane, who once played for ASI d’Abengourou (1st Division). Bah Armel of Agnéby Sport d’Agboville (Ligue 2) goes one better: ‘We’re no longer alone with the AFI’.