From : NaijaSuperFans

Team Nigeria UK Limited recently signed a landmark partnership agreement with English Premier League side Southampton as International Academy partners and exclusive representatives in Nigeria. In this interview, Omotara Aladegbamigbe, Managing Director at TNUK reveals exciting details of the agreement and it’s immediate and long-term benefits to Nigeria. Enjoy excerpts.

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Omotara Aladegbamigbe, the Managing Director at Team Nigeria UK International. I’m responsible for the day to day operations in terms of recruitment and business development of the whole organization.

So, what exactly is TNUK International into?

We are basically an international sports management company that has a laser focus on grassroots sports development in countries worldwide. We work with different partners in different countries across the world. We have an arm in the US, another one in Europe and one in the United Kingdom. Our focus is creating sustainable platforms for grasroots football, basketball, athletics and sports in general to develop.

Is this your first time foraying into operations in Nigeria as a company?

On the contrary, we have been in Nigeria for a long time. We are almost close to 10 years of operation and about six to seven years here in Nigeria but we have done a lot of rebranding so lots of people might have seen or heard about us in one form or another these past few years but we are the same company.

Okay. This partnership that everyone is talking about. Can you tell us how it came to be?

The great thing about this, as I said before, is that our work has been focused on young people and our offerings have been consistent for as long as we have been in existence. Through our products like SportsEdu+, Future Stars Youth League, we have been looking, for a number of years, for the perfect clubside to work together with. So we started developing conversations with different Premier League clubsides and we realise that our morals, ethics, values and working structures align so much with Southampton’s because we both have a huge interest in grassroots football development.

There are 20 teams in the Premier League who could also claim to share those values you talked about so why Southampton in particular? Why not West Ham with an acclaimed youth set-up or Watford with a large Nigerian presence on their roster?

That’s an interesting observation and it mirrored the series of conversations we had at management meetings in considering the Southampton option. I’m a strong Manchester United fan and our CEO being an avid Chelsea fan, there were a lot of discussions and back and forth about which team we should go with. So the main factor we considered was the development and sustainability of grassroots sports. If you look at the history of Southampton, for many years they’ve had a very brilliant foundation for players who come in and her catapulted into the Big 6 teams. Players like Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Sadio Mane and so very many others who have passed through the Southampton production line and essentially have gone on to make a name for themselves at the highest level. So, while we are not saying that we’re going to secure you a place in a Big 6 team through this partnership, but we’ll train you in a way that you’ll understand what you’re up against and what you need to do to have a shot at success. We are saying we can give you a good foundation to start you on your way.

So, in basic terms, how does the partnership work for the average youth. What do I need to do to be a part of this?

To be part of this, like you put it, we have an array of opportunities and products that Nigerians and every other nationality can take advantage of. Through our SportEdu+ programme and the FustarYL, we are targeting young boys and girls in the first instance to be nurtured and taught in how to play the game.

We work with kids as young as five years and as old as 16 to develop them within their schools and alongside their teachers. From there we create other pathways which could lead to A-Level studies abroad and University placements also because, being Nigerians ourselves, we are mindful of the fact that education is still a big part of why many parents will allow their children to take part in sports.

Being an organization peopled by those who were involved in sports at a point but who never went on to make a living professionally from it, we understand that it is the education that will make the difference when and if you cannot do sports. There are different ways you can benefit as we are offering internships, paid work experiences etc and that’s not just in places like Abuja, Lagos and Ibadan but we are fanning out across Nigeria and have opportunities internationally as well.

Good. This whole set-up looks centred around a school/sport thing but you will also agree that there are some very talented kids who would never go the school route for a number of reasons. Does that mean they are automatically shut out of this?

Like I said, the great thing about this project is that we have loads and loads of different opportunities for everyone. We understand sometimes the reasoning behind focusing on a niche area like sports and schooling but we are also mindful that there are many individuals who have not been afforded the opportunity to go to school by virtue of their backgrounds.

During certain periods of the year like Christmas, Easter and summer, we are hoping to have summer camps and clinics during which we hope to recruit within the local community to bring in local talents so we can bridge the gap between those who are privileged and those who are not.

So, for those kids who excel here, do you see a pathway for them to the Southampton Academy, if not necessarily the first team because you have to work your way there?

Your question leads me into another of our products which is the International Development Camps which is an opportunity for essentially young people who are playing within the FustarYL on a weekly basis to be watched and selected to represent the FustarYL. The International Development Camps offer the opportunity for schools to send kids who they believe have the talent to showcase their talents in front of Southampton coaches and to play against the Southampton Academy.

This will be the best way to showcase them to the club and I’m sure the club will not pass up the chance to sign a good young player when they see one. We have also got agreement in place for Southampton officials and coaches to come to Nigeria during the same period to watch the young players and ensure that we are actually capturing the best talents available. So, to answer your question, I will say there are ample opportunities whether home or away for our players to get into Southampton.

You have consistently mentioned the FustarYL during the course of this conversation. What is it all about?

The FustarYL, an acronym for Future Stars Youth League, is an independent football league for both male and female secondary school students. We run two strands in Lagos and Abuja since 2019 until the pandemic broke out last year. The idea was to have an independent league that is sustainable where schools could play against each other competitively.

We started out with about 20 schools in Abuja and when we started the female strand we had about 10 female schools competing. From the feedback, there was a lot of interests with people wanting their schools to be a part of it the following season but, unfortunately, the pandemic struck so we had to prematurely end the league.

Ultimately, the idea was that the best 20 legs from each of the strand were going to tour the United Kingdom and play against very competitive Academies like Chelsea and Arsenal and have the opportunity to show what they have. The FustarYL, while it lasted, was fun and we had excited parents and enthusiastic school proprietors all cheering for their wards every game day. We had a website with up-to-date information about the league and on each of the participating schools.

So are we going to see a resumption of the League now that life is gradually getting back to normal?

Most certainly. We’ll have a major launch in Lagos next January and one in Abuja with Southampton officials coming to Nigeria for a roll-out. We intend to make it a very loud event after the soft launch in the UK last week. We hope to have a Southampton/TNUK Cup which will be disputed in a mini-tournament by selected schools as part of the launch. This will be a precursor to the relaunch of the Sportedu+ and official resumption of the FustarYL in a bigger and better package.