Football scouts search for talent in DR Congo’s turbulent eastTue, 12 Sep 2023 14:35:24 GMT

Alexis’s eyes shine brightly as he holds a football trophy aloft in a stadium in Goma, a city in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s conflict-torn east.  The young footballer has emerged victorious after a four-day tournament in the city, which — in a rarity for the region — was attended by international scouts.”The cup, it’s a reward for my efforts,” says Alexis Isese Chuma, 18, who adds that playing before talent spotters “is an opportunity that doesn’t come along twice in a lifetime”.Militias have ravaged eastern DRC for three decades, a legacy of regional wars that flared during the 1990s and 2000s. Since late 2021, the M23 rebel group has also captured swathes of territory in the region, and come close to encircling Goma. Despite the strife, the founder of Goma’s GOAL Football Academy, Ugo Kasuku, organised a tournament this month and invited three European football scouts. Former DRC midfielder Michel Dinzey, now a scout for Hertha Berlin, one of the many teams he played for in Germany’s Bundesliga, turned up. As did Harry Varley for top Belgian side Gent and Distel Zola, a scout for Ligue 1 side Monaco — and an idol for many of the young players. “It’s a talent pool,” said Zola, a former DRC international who spent most of his own playing career in France where he was born. Zola told AFP it was important to promote “peace and joy” as well as “demonstrate the beauty” of the region that has been devastated by violence. To boot, he said he had spotted some promising players. “I saw a lot of maturity in the captain of DC Virunga, despite his young age,” he said picking out 18 year-old, Cedric Balingene Salumu. – ‘Keep going forward’ -“After talking to the two scouts, I feel proud of myself,” said Salamu whose performances in the number 4 shirt also caught the eye of Dinzey.”When a scout leaves Europe to come to Goma, you have to give it your all to have a chance of being selected,” Salumu added.Ugo Kasuku, the tournament organiser, said: “Despite what’s happening, we have to keep going forward”.The frontlines with M23 rebels are under 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Goma’s Unite Stadium, where the tournament played out. Kasuku launched his football academy eight years ago in a bid to support young sporting talent. He now has between 150 and 200 apprentice footballers drawn from across eastern DRC And beyond sport, he wants to “train young citizens with qualities that will help the country”. The idea behind the football tournament was not only to showcase good players to scouts, Kasuku explained, but also to demonstrate to parents that football is not a wasted activity. Varley described his visit to the DRC as “amazing” but said more work needs to be done to prepare local players “for the highest level”.And just to show that, contrary to what Alexis Chuma says, maybe this opportunity does come along twice in a lifetime, Varley said Gent would return for the next edition of the tournament, perhaps to unearth the next great African footballer.