The FC Bayern Youth Cup opens the prospect of playing for the record champions to young footballers all over the world.
Daniel Francis from Nigeria had a great dream that also took off thanks to the tournament.
How often has Klaus Augenthaler travelled around the world for football? Even he does not know.
“Something always come along,” he just says. Norway, Mexico, Cyprus – as a professional he has seen many different countries with Bayern and the Germany national team.
“But it’s always just the airport, hotel and stadium,” says the 62-year-old, who still travels to all four corners of the world for FC Bayern: Thailand, India, Croatia, Brazil and the USA have been his destinations during this season alone. He likes that, especially because the impressions he takes home with him are more diverse today than they used to be.
“Now you just spend a week in Lagos, for example. You have lots of appointments with the media, fans and the German embassy. You get to know the country and the people.”
Lagos, Nigeria’s economic centre, is the most populous city in Africa. Augenthaler was there in early 2019 for the FC Bayern Youth Cup. Among his many memories, it is a journey that he treasures as “the most evocative”. The conditions onsite were to make him “humble.
The hygienic conditions are catastrophic, garbage and plastic on the roadside everywhere, the traffic runs without any recognisable rules, on three-lane roads people simply drive in five lanes – and then there are two cars coming towards them!”
Augenthaler still has the images vividly in his mind. “This city is home to 25 to 29 million people – and there is only one artificial turf pitch,” he reports.
And that’s exactly where just over 100 footballers aged between 14 and 16 gathered at the beginning of February 2019 to play the Nigeria national final of the FC Bayern Youth Cup.
The aim was to qualify for the world finals, to be played in Munich in May. Augenthaler selected ten players for the event, including one that stood out in particular: Daniel Francis.
A good year later, in May 2020, Daniel Francis is sitting at home. The 16-year-old lives with his parents in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, 700 kilometres from Lagos.
Abuja, a city planned on a drawing board in the 1970s in the centre of the country, is developed more like a Western city, unlike the more chaotic metropolis of Lagos.
But in fact Daniel shouldn’t be there now. Actually, he should be in Munich playing football. FC Bayern had invited him for a trial with the U17s. Then Coronavirus came, and the trip had to be postponed indefinitely.
He was “very sad” about it, Daniel tells us.
The rain is lashing down in the background – it is monsoon season.
Daniel dreams the dream of many African boys. He wants to make it to Europe, give himself and his family a better life by making a living in football. And he feels that he can do it.
“The Youth Cup has shown me that I have something that can take me far. It has brought my dream of becoming a professional footballer to life,” he says.
Following the qualifying tournament in Abuja, he was invited to the national final in Lagos – and there he was selected for the team that would play for Nigeria in the 2019 World Finals in Munich.
“That was my big goal, the biggest challenge of my life.”
Daniel “attracted attention immediately,” remembers Augenthaler. “He had everything you look for: match intelligence, technique, speed, athleticism.”
For the boys, the Youth Cup “was a great opportunity. Consequently, they put their heart and soul into it. They’re in it like there’s no tomorrow.”
The 2019 Youth Cup had nearly 8,000 participants worldwide, 500 of them in Nigeria. Even if scouting is not the primary purpose of the tournament series, you always find exceptional players, says Augenthaler.
“Before Daniel, two or three other talents made it to trials in Munich. I can imagine Daniel would fit right in there.”
The six-day trip to the Youth Cup World Final in Munich in mid-May 2019 was an unforgettable experience for Daniel.
Training at Säbener Straße, a meeting with Manuel Neuer, sightseeing in the city and getting to see the Bundesliga match against Eintracht Frankfurt – including the title winning celebrations – formed the varied programme for him and the 80 participants.
Daniel raves about the city (“beautiful”), the people (“all very friendly”), the stadium (“totally cool”). And in the end he stood on the grass of the Allianz Arena himself. Before the eyes of Klaus Augenthaler, Nigeria’s national coach Gernot Rohr and many FCB youth coaches, Daniel’s team came fifth in the grand finals tournament.
“It was an incredible experience,” he said. “I’d like to play here again sometime.”
With Nigeria to the U17 World Cup
Daniel is a defensive midfielder, like Thiago, “my great role model”.
At home in Abuja he plays for FC Hearts – and also caught the attention of the Nigerian Football Association scouts during the FCB Youth Cup. In October/November 2019 he travelled with the “Golden Eagles” to the U17 World Cup in Brazil.
The Nigerians made it through to the last 16 – and even though Daniel was only on the pitch for a few minutes in the 4-2 opening win against Hungary, he is proud: “It was a great honour for me to wear my country’s jersey. I will never forget it.”
Half a year later, Daniel is waiting in Abuja for the opportunity to travel to Munich for a trial. His school is closed because of Coronavirus. But still, he trains. “Every day,” he assures us and lists: sprints, endurance, strength, shooting technique…
“I work very hard.”
In January he went to the Youth Cup again. This time in Nigeria, 5,000 young people participated in the qualifying rounds. Daniel visited the tournament in his hometown as an ambassador “to motivate the boys,” he says, “I told them that this is no fun. This is serious. They have to do their best.”
In Abuja they take the words of Daniel Francis to heart. The young footballers there know him and want to emulate him.
The FC Bayern Youth Cup and football in general is more than just a sport for them. It is a potential gateway to another life.
Culled from the Official Bayern Munich Magazine June 2020