Football Dreams


This was the academy’s unique humanitarian project which aimed to identify talented young players from around the world and then nurture and provide them with life skills as well as a quality education.

It was an opportunity for thousands of 13-year-old boys in developing countries to demonstrate their talent and be rewarded with an educational scholarship and a chance to realize their dream of reaching the heights of international football.

For those selected, the programme provided a comprehensive package which included private school education, coaching, friendly international games, social, medical and sport scientific support as well as accommodation and food.

Football Dreams

The idea of starting AFD was born in 2005, when Aspire Academy and stakeholders in Qatar looked for a way to support developing countries while also developing the talent at Aspire. Taking into account the philosophy and background of Aspire Academy, providing scholarships and giving young players the opportunity to get a sound education in the best possible environment and enabling them to start a career as a professional football player, seemed to be the best option.

More than 3.5 Million Participants

The programme kicked off in Africa in 2007 and involved 430,000 young footballers from seven countries. In 2008 it expanded into Asia and Latin America, while a satellite branch of Aspire Academy was founded in Senegal. Between 2007 and 2014, more than 3.5 million boys in 17 countries were screened, with 18 to 20 scholarships awarded each year. The programme involved over 6,000 volunteers and saw more than 150,000 11 vs 11 games played on more than 800 football grounds.

Comprehensive Selection Process

The selection process for AFD began with those registered playing in 11 vs. 11 games which lasted 25 minutes. The best players progressed to a second phase that saw them participate in another round of 11 vs. 11 games, where they were analysed by international scouts to determine the top 50 players in their respective countries. The final selection of players were then assessed by AFD scouts and Aspire Academy experts, who handpicked the best players. The top two to four players from each participating country and the best three goalkeepers then visited the Aspire Academy in Qatar for the final testing phase. The last phase of selection took three weeks at the end of which between 18 and 20 of the top players were awarded a scholarship to pursue a path to becoming a "Champion in Sport" as well as a "Champion in Life".

The Perfect Bridge for Professional Football

Being part of the AFD programme offered the selected boys an educational programme at a private school as well as a comprehensive football training programme under the guidance of experienced international staff. To provide a smooth transition from youth to elite senior footballer, the most promising AFD players – after completing the programme and turning 18 years of age – were offered the chance to become professional football players at Belgian club K.A.S. Eupen.

One of the AFD’s success stories was Senegal national team player Diawandou Diagne who spent several seasons at Eupen and also enjoyed a season on the books of Spanish giants FC Barcelona in 2014. Similarly, for fellow AFD graduate Henry Onyekuru and Nigeria international, Eupen became a stepping-stone to a career playing across Europe.

It was not only football clubs that benefit from the high-quality training that players receive at Aspire: more than 40 of the recipients of scholarships went onto represent their national football associations (including Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Thailand, Paraguay and Mali), from under-17s to senior national teams. None of the players were ever naturalised by Qatar of played for the national team as this was never the aim of the project.

Football as a Humanitarian Network

Football as a Humanitarian Tool

The work that AFD did in developing countries was not limited to realizing the dreams of young players who want to play professionally and get a high-quality education. Aspire Academy also used its global network for the greater good with AFD giving rise to "Football Against Malaria", another corporate social responsibility initiative that worked in collaboration with the Lionel Messi Foundation. This life-saving humanitarian project was launched by Argentina star Messi in Senegal in 2013. His participation, just like Aspire Academy’s, was voluntary and not for-profit with the sole goal of raising awareness and trying to reduce the spread of malaria.