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‘Le Gym is a big brother for RC Abidjan’

Interview

July 27, 2020

‘Le Gym is a big brother for RC Abidjan’

It’s already two years since, in June 2018, Racing Club Abidjan and OGC Nice officially announced their partnership. How has it evolved and what has happened in those two years? RCA president Logossina Cissé gives us an update as his club has just been crowned champions of Côte d’Ivoire for the first time in their history.

How was the academy founded?

Its history is linked to that of my brother (Souleymane Cissé, founder of the RCA). He had a professional football career in Europe. Back in Africa, he was able to see the misery with his own eyes and measure how fortunate he was. Seeing young people of his age sleeping in the street made him want to act and found the academy. Initially, he helped single people, battered women, orphans and street kids.

But as he is a footballer and football is very popular in Africa, he had the idea of supplying sports equipment to rally them around the idea. In return, the youngsters go to school. That's at the heart of the project. He set it up and it worked.

As time went on, we decided to separate those who have real potential as footballers from those who are there for fun. So we created an elite group that brings together young people with the ability to break through. We noticed that they were evolving very quickly and, little by little, they wanted to take part in the competitions in which they performed well. We then merged with a D3 club. And we're now in Ligue 1, Côte d'Ivoire's first division.

Logossina Cissé with Frédéric Gioria

How has RCA grown?

To sustain and finance the project, we knew we needed an elite group. We went through very difficult financial times. My brother put everything he had earned in football into this project. With the little means at our disposal, we tried to structure it along the lines of the European model. In football, we know exactly where we want to go. In particular, we have a scouting service that covers the whole country.

We're carrying out social programmes (the club was once again very active in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and benefited from the support of INEOS). They give us a certain credibility, so when a young person catches the eye somewhere, we manage to bring them to us. Today, we have the best talent in Côte d'Ivoire. We're trying to develop them so that tomorrow we can send them to Nice, which has put its trust in us.

‘CHAMPIONS AT SUCH A YOUNG AGE IS RARE’

You have just celebrated your first ever league championship...

It's both an immense joy and a great source of pride, especially considering how far we've come over the years... Players as young as that who dominate our championship, it’s very rare. African football is very tough, but they make up for it with their intelligence. They learn to avoid contact, to anticipate and see things faster. All our best players play above their age category. We deliberately avoid working too hard on weights, so that they don't try to just power their way through. On the contrary, we want them to be able to compensate with other qualities and make their heads work.

Do you have any examples of young kids from the academy who have succeeded outside of football?

I have two stories that come to mind. My brother ran into a policeman who got off the street thanks to the academy and now has a son. When he was 7 years old, he had gone back to school thanks to us. He gave my brother's first name to his child. We also met the manager of a bank, the brother of a former academician who was an orphan and whom we took off the street. He went to Portugal to pursue his career in football and later was able to finance his brother's studies. You feel a lot of pride and happiness at times like that. It's very touching to see that a small action can have such consequences, especially for this child who is going to have a structured life. It is an incentive to keep going.

‘JULIEN FOURNIER’S INVOLVEMENT WAS CRUCIAL’

What encouraged you at the time to nurture this partnership with OGC Nice? What values do the two entities share?

Before concluding this partnership with Nice, many major clubs were interested and submitted proposals to us, notably to buy out the academy. But we were not interested. Julien Fournier's involvement made the difference. We met and exchanged ideas. He travelled to Abidjan and when we saw him with the children there, we immediately understood that beyond football, there were real values and a human dimension. 
What's more, Nice is a cosmopolitan city and the Gym is a team that advocates both attacking and possession-based play. Above all, it is a club that gives a place to young people. On this point, there is a real affinity. In particular, OGC Nice offers a chance to reconvert as a coach or in other positions to those who do not manage to break through in football. Ninety-five per cent of RCA's coaches today are former academy students. Those who wish to reconvert, and who do not pursue their careers elsewhere, are offered this possibility. We don't throw them out on the street, we try to get them interested in something.

How does the partnership work in terms of the relationship between the two clubs?

We are a young club and, at the beginning, an academy. This implies learning and today we are looking to take advantage of Nice's know-how to grow. In the fields of marketing, communication and digital, we are trying to develop and we want OGC Nice to be our big brother and help us train our employees. The idea is to structure ourselves right here.

The relationship is also nurtured through trips and visits to Abidjan…

Julien Fournier, Serge Recordier and Frédéric Gioria in particular have come to Abidjan. The talent manager from Lausanne, also owned by INEOS, too. The relationship today is very strong, after several difficult months last year. After the departure of Julien Fournier and Jean-Pierre Rivère from the club, there was talk of ending it because this partnership was based on the relationship between men. We're very happy that they've come back. And Bob Ratcliffe is a fantastic person, very endearing and has a real commitment to this project. We were able to see that when he came here in February, before the pandemic.

‘IBRAHIM CISSÉ, THE FIRST STONE’

On the sporting side, there is talk of a tournament…
We came up with the idea of creating a tournament in Abidjan, inviting OGC Nice first and foremost. We think it could be very beneficial for both sides. It's a cultural and intellectual exchange. First of all for the young people, from our country and Nice. It would allow them to meet young people of their own age from other horizons. OGC Nice could, moreover, measure the actual level of young players on the spot. In addition, its coaches could see how difficult it is for their African counterparts to develop in conditions far removed from those of Nice. It would be an international tournament in which another European club and the best academies in the region or even on across the African continent would be invited. It would be based on friendship, solidarity and collaboration between OGC Nice and RCA, two very close institutions.

Ibrahim Cissé, an RCA academy graduate, joined OGC Nice in the summer of 2018 (initially loaned for six months to Famalicao in the Portuguese D1, before being loaned, without option to buy, to Berrichone de Châteauroux for next season). Can we expect other young talents to follow in his footsteps?
That is the ultimate goal of this partnership. Cissé was the first stone and marked the start of the project proper. Some youngsters have already been spotted by the club and the ambition is to offer them the best talent in Africa. Our objective in the next few years is to bring out the African Ballon d'Or. Current youngsters include Brahima Ouattara, who was voted Côte d'Ivoire's best young player last season, Jean N'Guessan, who is well on his way to earning the award this year, and striker Traore Seydou, who is expected to make a name for himself. These are players with real potential and a lot of talent. They won't all be going to Nice, but the club still has a financial stake in those who won't be going to the Gym.

Photos Y.F.