Fans who have taken time to see games in the UEFA Europa League, CAF Champions League and COPA Libertadores would have taken notes of some interesting Nigerian talents.
The performance of Peter Olayinka (Slavia Prague), Junior Ajayi (Al Ahly) and Samson Akinyoola hasn’t gone unnoticed globally.
The aforementioned trio are just three of the numerous players 36 Lion has nurtured who have gone on to become international stars.
Imoh Ezekiel, Sadiq Popoola, Atanda Sadiq, Yira Sor and Liameed Quadri are some of the players who are 36 Lion products.
Situated in Lagos in the Western part of Nigeria, 36 Lion is the envy of all. Over the last two decades, few private clubs in Nigeria can claim to rub shoulders with 36 Lion when it comes to churning out of established football stars.
The story of how the club started, though, is one that is both baffling and daring. Sir Liameed Gafar – the brain behind the project – had the idea of starting something special in his country. A former player himself, he understood the need to give young players a chance. Despite his wealth, he made it a point to progressively nurture talents at his club rather than adopt a “galáctico” policy. He began by scouting young players.
Like Barcelona’s famous La Masia, 36 Lion is also built on a strict code and footballing philosophy. The youngsters are nevertheless taken through the values, ethics and every rudiment of the game.
Young footballers are scouted from neighbouring communities, trained and educated to become model professionals. They are taught the values of hard work, humility and respect for teammates, opponents and fans alike. The coaches also make it a responsibility to monitor the youngsters to ensure that their diet and other off-field excesses are checked. At 36 Lion, the philosophy is based on possession and position. Every player needs to first understand his role on the pitch in order to make the right decisions.”
At the top of the 36 Lion’s philosophical pyramid, though, is high pressing, possession-based football. They are taught to build from the back, possess and press [when they lose the ball].
To attract the best young talents, the club sends out scouts to the various regions in Nigeria to monitor football games. This strategy has so far worked well, with youngsters joining 36 Lion from all corners of the country.
With a clear vision, the club has nurtured many players who have gone on to enjoy stellar football careers.
Ajayi is flying high in Egypt, having won multiple titles with Al Ahly. Thousands of kilometres across the Atlantic, Samson Akinyoola and Ade Oguns are making waves with Caracas of Venezuela.
There are also other graduates from 36 Lion spread across Africa, Europe and Asia.