During the winter break, Jules Koundé was in Senegal. Not for the Yule log, but rather to promote the education and training of young African footballers: his new hobbyhorse. As ambassador for this project initiated by Siboo, the sports marketing agency founded by Baada Oumy Salomon, sister of one of his best friends, the French international defender is keen to pass on his experience of the very highest level to young Africans, to help them avoid sinking in the face of the demands of an unforgiving world.
Jules Koundé and the Siboo project for the training and education of young footballers in centers and academies were honored in Senegal. The program included a face-to-face meeting with the local press, followed by a meeting with hundreds of young footballers from academies in Dakar and other regions. Finally, a visit to the island of Gorée as a duty of remembrance. On his first visit to Senegal, the FC Barcelona defender was very enthusiastic about both the place and the project, which is close to his heart.
Young Africans and their dreams: the heart of the project
At the age of 25, Jules had only set foot in Africa once before. That was in Benin on a purely family trip. However, this continent seems to be a priority for the French vice-world champion. No doubt because of his origins. “Africa is a continent I want to discover. It’s a chance for me to discover Senegal. I’ve always had a link with Senegal through childhood friends, and I’ve always wanted to discover it. Then I’m going to Benin. Through Siboo or other projects, I want to make my contribution to the continent. My father is of Beninese origin. My family lives there too. I have a connection with Africa,” he says.
With Siboo, Jules Koundé may have found the perfect partner to expand his ambitions for Africa. Siboo’s Senegalese Managing Director was quick to point out that her group was first and foremost focused on Africa. “This project is for Senegal and Africa. It will start in Senegal, then Benin. What interests us is sport in Dakar, sport in the regions, but sport in Africa in general. This project, and even Siboo, has an African vision. It’s the African continent that we want to help through our various initiatives,” explains Baada Oumy Salomon.
Jules Koundé, the ideal messenger
The world of professional soccer and its demands are at the heart of the “Siboo” project.Siboo” means “dream” in Mandinka, a popular dialect in many African countries. As if to help and support the dreams of many young footballers in their quest to reach the very highest European level. And who better to convey this message than Jules Koundé?“You have to make young people understand that soccer is not an end in itself. That’s why I think we’ve got a good ambassador in Jules, because he’s someone who does a lot of things outside soccer,” says Ms. Salomon.
When asked to take on such a project, Koundé didn’t hesitate for a second.And despite his busy schedule, he made the trip to Senegal, followed by another to Benin.“I’ve known Oumy for a very long time. For the record, she’s the older sister of one of my best friends,” explains Jules Koundé. When she told me about the project, I thought it was important. Today’s soccer has evolved and leaves little room for chance. You have to be trained. That starts with looking after the youngsters. I’ve been there too.I was lucky enough to be well trained and well supported by people who gave me the right advice,” he recalls.
In its mission to prepare young footballers for the world of top-level football, Siboo could not have wished for a better standard-bearer than Koundé. “I’d like to thank our ambassador, a professional in the truest sense of the word. He’s also someone who’s already planned his career transition. He has launched a number of entrepreneurial projects. He’s the perfect ambassador for this program, and the idea is quite simply to inspire,” enthused Baada Oumy. Training young footballers is why I’m here,” Koundé reminds us.It’s very important. To reach the very highest level, of course, you have to work hard, pay attention to the little details, the invisible things: sleep, nutrition… I wanted to be part of this project,” he insisted.
Welcomed like a rock star by the children
After facing the journalists, Koundé went to the BeSport Académie center, a partner of FC Barcelona, where hundreds of children welcomed him like a rockstar. Drawn from academies in Dakar and the surrounding regions, these players went to great lengths to obtain the precious sesame: a selfie with the Barcelona defender. Barça fans or not, the only thing that mattered to them was to be able to get close to such a star. Despite his hectic tour schedule, Koundé was eager to satisfy every request. He shook hundreds of hands and shared numerous photos with his young fans.
A gala match between the BeSport academy and FC Bignona was on the program.
Not forgetting the distribution of gifts to the children.It was also an opportunity for Jules Koundé to send a message of encouragement to the kids. I’ve been in your shoes too, with the desire to become a professional footballer. But above all, keep in mind that the person you are is the most important thing. School is very important.You have to work hard to be able to think for yourself and make the right decisions for your career and your future. I encourage you to do so,” he told the young academics.
Schooling, a priority to cope with the very highest level
Encouraging young footballers to make a greater effort at school is a priority for Koundé, as he reminded the media earlier.“School has played a big role in my career.It enabled me to know how to surround myself, to be able to make the right decisions and to be well supported. This program is all about supporting young footballers, the young athletes of tomorrow. This program can make a difference, and that’s why I agreed to be its ambassador,” he declared.
Jules Koundé during his visit to the Maison des Esclaves on Gorée Island.
Mrs. Salomon echoed his sentiments.“It’s vital to emphasize the importance of school. Today they all want to be footballers, but maybe tomorrow they’ll have other preferences, maybe they’ll be more comfortable in communication or on the pitch as a coach. These are things where, at a certain age, it’s hard to stand back. I think it’s up to all of us to make them aware of these choices.With Jules as our ambassador, the message will be more audible and stronger, and will be heard by young people who only have soccer on their minds”, insisted the Siboo director.
The new realities of modern soccer require the acquisition of certain knowledge and skills. And this, despite the creation of a staff dedicated to managing off-field affairs.“What concerns us is the sports marketing and communication aspect. Soccer has changed, and for an athlete it’s still important to understand his environment, to understand the challenges of sports marketing, and to learn how to communicate. It means learning how to manage your brand image, how to deal with the media, how to manage your relations with fans, how to manage your social networks. We know that in academies, only a small percentage of players reach the very highest level. The idea is also to give skills to others, enabling them to bounce back in the professional world. As part of the program, we’ll be bringing in people who will make young athletes aware of all these requirements,” she explains.
Jules Koundé’s visit to Senegal ended with a short trip by rowboat to the famous island of Gorée, where the French international discovered the slave house and various historic sites from the period of the slave trade.After revisiting this dark part of history, the event ended on a more upbeat note, with a visit to the Renaissance monument in Dakar. Koundé then flew to Benin for the second part of the project.