14 year-old Latunde Bankole lives in Ibadan, Oyo State with his parents, and the first child of a lower class family of seven. In the public school he attends, he usually ends up at the bottom 20% of his class at the end of almost every term. Everyday, teachers would call him out of the class just to scold him for not getting his assignments right and everyday, his classmates would mock him over and over again.
Classified as one of the worst students in school with no aspirations and goals, or even the possibility of becoming a lawyer, doctor, or an engineer. Little did they know that Latunde’s dreams were bigger than anyone of them could ever imagine.
Latunde wants to do well like his classmates, but he also had dreams of becoming the world’s best footballer like Messi and Ronaldo. So, everyday on his way back from school he stops over at Olubadan Stadium to watch the Pepsi Football Academy (PFA) players train and practice.
From the pavilion where he sits, he feels like he could achieve anything. He feels the freedom to actualize his vision because there, no one scolds or mocks him. Here, on the football pitch, his dreams remain valid and realistic. The PFA had become Latunde’s safe haven and his sole mission is to join academy.
One day, while watching the match from the pavilion, one of the players kicked the ball to him and for a moment Latunde felt like he had received a baton in a relay race. He caught the ball, controlled it and displayed his juggling skills kicking the ball from heel to heel and headed it back on to the field. Everyone watched in awe, entranced for a couple of seconds.
There was a resounding round of applause, after which the Coach called him to the pitch to replace one of the players for 5 minutes.
“Hey boy! Let’s see what you’ve really got.” he said.
Latunde strapped up and for 5 minutes he played his heart out like he was never going to play football again.
After the game, the coach then took him for a walk and asked him if he would like to join the academy.
“You are one special boy and you belong here. In a matter of time you could be on your way to the United Kingdom on scholarship. There you can go to school and play football all for free!”
For the first time in his life, Latunde could not describe what he felt. The coach told him all he needed was approval from his parents and a complete football kit and he could start training the very next day.
Latunde Bankole was worried about how to get money to buy his complete kit. His poor parents could barely afford his school fees, so it really was no use asking them. He decided to do some menial jobs.
Through the help of some of his friends, he was able to get a job working as a laundry man for a family in the neighbourhood. The family was good to him and tipped him every now and then. In a few weeks, Latunde was able to buy the kit he needed, get registered and become a member of the Academy.
Latunde Bankole’s desire to get into the Pepsi Football Academy began the day he heard that a boy called Sheu Agunbiade who had lived in his neighbourhood and was a few years older than him had been given a scholarship to play football and study in the UK.
Sheu Agunbiade, a product of the same Ibadan PFA centre, was one of the most valuable players at the Pepsi Football Academy in 2013, emerging as one of those selected for the scholarship scheme to study at Brooke House College in Birmingham.
Sheu is currently the school’s player of the year having scored 40 goals for Brooke House College in all competitions within one session. He will also be completing his scholarship in July 2015 and has a great chance of playing professional football in Europe following in the footsteps of other PFA alumni like Mikel Obi, Osaze Odemwingie, and several others.
This weekend in Abeokuta, several teenage boys just like Latunde Bankole from the 15 PFA centres across Nigeria are gathered to showcase their skills and talent. Many will be praying and hoping they impress the coaches and tutors so they can become the next Sheu Agunbiade, on the journey to ultimately becoming the next Mikel Obi.