Nigerian Pepsi Football Academy: The Greatest Producer of African Talent?

Africa has produced lots of talents when it comes to football, but many of them did not have the opportunity of going through an academy that teaches football from the rudiments. If you are talking about footballing countries in the continent of Africa, the name Nigeria will not be left out having won many laurels at every level of football.

The country has produced many talented footballers in the past such as Segun Odegbami, Felix Owolabi, the late Rashidi Yekini, Mutiu Adepoju, Austin Okocha, Sunday Oliseh, and Kanu Nwankwo. None of these players has the opportunity of going through football academy though they played for youth football club in their respective locality.

A football academy was established in 1992 by Kashimawo Laloko as a football school and based at the Agege Stadium, courtesy of the Lagos State Sports Council the initiative secured the total backing of Pepsi in 1994 and has, since then, been titled the Pepsi Football Academy. 

The Pepsi Football Academy, has developed and grown into one of the most prestigious football academies in Nigeria over the years.

The academy has produced lots of football talents for the country, such as former Nigeria’s Super Eagles midfielder John Mikel Obi, Osaze Odemwingie, Soga Sambo, Elderson Echejile, Joseph Akpala, Yinka Adedeji, and Sunday Mba. These players have performed excellently well for their various clubs and for the Super Eagles.

The Pepsi Football Academy travelled across Nigeria scouting young footballers with the potential to play professionally. They found their most successful player when Mikel Obi was picked from over 3,000 young players to play for the academy. 

Obi stood out to scouts and was later picked to play for top-flight club Plateau United, a side that had previously developed stars Celestine Babayaro, Victor Obinna, and Chris Obodo, among others, that went on to success in European leagues. 

Later known as John Obi Mikel, he made headlines for his country at the FIFA U-17 World Cup held in Finland. Following the tournament, he trialed at South African club Ajax Cape Town, before joining Oslo-based club Lyn Football in Norway. 

In the summer of 2005, Mikel played for Nigeria at the FIFA World Youth Championships held in the Netherlands. Mikel led his country all the way up until the finals, where the Super Eagles were defeated 2-1 by Argentina. Obi won the Silver Ball for his efforts after being voted the tournament’s second-best player. Obi’s success as a young player can be attributed to receiving a good footballing education at the PFA, and it led him to an illustrious career that saw him play at Chelsea for 11 years and captain the Nigerian National Team.

Another player that excelled through the Pepsi Football Academy is left back Elderson Echiéjilé. He was a member of the Nigeria U20 team at the 2007 FIFA U20 World Cup in Canada, playing five matches and scoring once. Similarly to Mikel, his performances on the international stage at youth level earned him a move abroad, signing for Ligue 1 club Stade Rennais F.C after the tournament. 

Elderson Echiéjilé

Joining the club as a teenager, Echiéjilé struggled to cement a first team spot, mainly playing for the reserve team and only making 19 appearances during his three seasons at the club. 

Despite struggling at club level, Echiéjilé was still one of the top Nigerian defenders, and made his debut for the senior National Team in 2009. He made the Super Eagles’ 2010 World Cup squads, appearing in two group stage matches in an eventual group stage exit.

He moved to Braga for a fresh start and really made a name for himself in Portugal from the day he arrived, scoring an incredible goal from a corner kick in his debut against  Celtic in the qualifying rounds of the UEFA Champions League. 

Despite his obvious skills, he failed to cement a first team spot once again, and was an unused substitute in Braga’s 1-0 loss to Porto in the 2011 UEFA Europa League Final. Perhaps Echiéjilé was more suited to being a winger, as he clearly had goal scoring prowess. He scored four goals in 26 league matches in his second season with Braga, an incredible output for a defender. 

Echiéjilé was called up to Nigeria’s 23-man squad for the 2013 African Cup of Nations, scoring the first goal in a 4–1 semi-final win over Mali which proved crucial as they went on to win the tournament. Echiéjilé was also a key member of the 2013 FIFA Confederation Cup squad in Brazil, scoring in the group stage opener against Tahiti.

He was poised to continue his career with the Super Eagles and continue to soar through the Nigerian footballing ranks at the 2014 World Cup, but he sustained an injury in a warm-up game against Greece and was replaced by Ejike Uzoenyi. 

In January of 2014, he rejoined the French league, signing for AS Monaco. After making 37 league appearances in 1.5 seasons, he lost his starting spot and was sent out on loan multiple times to Belgium and Turkey before his career eventually fizzled out. The 31 year old is currently a free agent. 

Peter Osaze Odemwingie was another player that rose through the academy despite being born in Russia to a Russian mother and Nigerian father, both medical students. Similarly to Echiéjilé, Odemwingie got his start as a professional with Nigerian Premier League side Bendel Insurance after graduating from the Pepsi Football Academy. 

After making his debut for the Super Eagles as a substitute in a 3–0 victory over Kenya in May 2002, he moved to the now defunct Belgian club La Louvière. In his first season in Belgium he helped his club win the Belgian Cup. 

He scored his first goal for Nigeria against Angola in a qualifying match for the 2004 AFCON. At the tournament, however, it was Odemwingie who broke the hearts of millions of Nigerians, missing his penalty against Tunisia (the eventual winners) in the semi-finals. 

His performances in Belgium earned him a move to OSC Lille, where he really blossomed. As a 6’0 winger with blistering pace, Peter really had the qualities to take him far in his career. He scored 23 times in 75 league appearances for the French outfit, including a brace against AC Milan at the San Siro to advance his team to the UEFA Champions League group stage. 

Odemwingie gained a reputation as a clutch player, almost always rising to the occasion after his penalty miss at the 2004 AFCON. This was one of the many reasons that he attracted the attention of many top European teams. However, for unclear reasons, it was Russian club Lokomotiv Moscow who got his coveted signature, shelling out US $14 million. Maybe he wanted to return to the country of his mother, or it could have been the money. Like almost all promising young players who move to Russia, it ended up stalling their career and potential. 

Peter Odemwinie at West Brom

Odemwingie is best known for his exploits in the Premier League with West Brom. He instantly became a fan favorite after scoring an 81st minute winner against Sunderland just one day after putting pen to paper. Many newly promoted clubs to the English Premier League are known to punt on foreign players in the hope that they can keep them in the richest league in the world. Odemwingie could not have been a better signing for West Brom, not only keeping them up while he was there, but scoring 38 and assisting 19 goals. 

In 2008, Odemwingie was selected as an over-age player for the Super Eagles’ Olympic squad, scoring in the quarter-final against Ivory Coast as the team earned the silver medal after losing the final to defending champions Argentina. He captained Nigeria for the 2010 African Cup of Nations, and when Nigeria bowed out of the competition at the semi-final stage, Odemwingie controversially openly criticised coach Shuaibu Amodu’s tactics, blaming him for the defeat. He was chosen as part of the Best XI of the tournament. 

On the international stage, Odemwingie was not a coach’s favorite despite having once worn the captain’s armband, as he also openly criticized Lars Lagerback after being benched and had a dispute with the next coach Stephen Keshi for a similar reason. He made a prominent return to the National team after playing in the 2010 World Cup at the next World Cup, scoring the only goal in their win against Bosnia and Herzegovina, their first win at a World Cup since 1998. 

The PFA began awarding scholarships for promising players to study and play football in the United Kingdom in 2006. Michael Oluwatosin, who is presently plying his trade in the Portuguese League, was the first recipient of the scholarship.

It was established to give room for the players to combine football with education, in order to prosper in every facet of their life. A consultant to Pepsi Football Academy said: “Pepsi is very proud of what it has achieved through the Pepsi Academy in terms of youth development in Nigeria. Pepsi has made and continue to make significant contributions to youth development in Nigeria through the Pepsi Academy in the past 20 years.” 

Despite the achievements of the Academy, they have been going through rough patches in recent times due to the unavailability of modern day training equipment to train the players.

Today, the Pepsi Football Academy has over 3,000 registered students aged between 6-18 years and operates throughout the year from 14 separate training centres and 54 coaches across Nigeria.