An academy in west London is giving players a second chance that drop out of the game and is spotting talent that is missed by Premier League scouts
In football, second chances do exist. Yasin Ben El-Mhanni, Frank Vincent and Ibrahim Meite are proof of that.
After being dubbed not good enough for non-league club Barnet FC, El-Mhanni and Vincent have had the last laugh, having recently joined up with Newcastle United and Bournemouth respectively, while one-time amateur star Ibrahim Meite has had the privilege of signing for Cardiff City after an impressive trial – all with the help of the Ask Godders Academy, which finds players who slip through the net and helps them back into the game.
Vincent had a trial at Bristol Rovers before joining Bournemouth to work with Eddie Howe and he outlined the importance of keeping faith in your abilities after a set back.
“Coming from a League Two club where things just didn’t go to plan and a couple of months later getting signed for a Premier League club is just like a dream come true really,” Vincent told Goal . “At first coming out of that, you’re quite disappointed obviously and you’re thinking about whether football is the right path for you.
“I kept my faith and I knew I was good enough, I just needed a platform to get me to a point where I thought I could achieve it. My birthday is 23rd April, and I thought before my birthday I need to get something ready for next year.
“It actually got announced on the Friday before my birthday. So, it was a surreal moment for me, I got to tell my family across the dinner table on my birthday and I won’t ever forget that moment.”
Meite, by contrast, was just an amateur before he got picked up by the Ask Godders Academy. However, his exceptional natural talent convinced the team’s manager Godfrey Torto to put him forward for professional trials.
Leicester City invited Meite in but it was Cardiff City who took a chance on the youngster, and he has since gone on to make his debut in the Championship.
“This time last year I didn’t have a team I was just playing around locally in parks and everywhere I played people would come up to me and tell me: I feel like you’re good enough to go somewhere in football,” Meite added.
“The [AG Academy] helped me a lot, they got me into a non-league club and I scored a few goals there. Then I went on trial with Leicester City, after that I signed with Cardiff City. Neil Warnock brought me into his office and said: ‘Listen, I really like you’. It’s the best gaffer I’ve had. He put his trust in me and gave me the chance, and I took my chance.”
More than happy to have signed my first professional contract for Cardiff city FC. I wanna take a moment to shout out Godders and Manny, they made this possible and always believed In me and helped me on the pitch become a better player and off the pitch to become a better person. Took a lot of hard work and this is just the beginning. Really couldn’t of asked for a better agent and assistant big up @askgodders and @sensational_semps if your a young footballer trying to make it definitely give @ag_football_academy a follow #agacademy
El-Mhanni was also released from Barnet, but unfazed, went on trials with West Bromwich Albion, Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea before signing for Newcastle United.
The Newcastle United trickster had previously turned down Watford, in a move that he admits was a mistake, but he is happy that he got his second chance thanks to the academy in London.
“My dad told me to stop playing [after Barnet released me],” El-Mhanni admitted. “He’d be like: just forget it, you’re 19. One manager might not like you and another might like you – that’s how it works.
“I’ve been on trials to places managers aren’t keen on me. I’ve performed, done what I had to do and trained well, but sometimes you’re just not what they’re looking for.
“I still I couldn’t believe it, going up on the train I was sitting with Godfrey and I was saying: ‘I’m actually going to sign for Newcastle! This is a Joke!’ He was telling me: ‘This is where it’s got you but this is only the beginning, you can’t take this for granted’.”[embedded content]
The mastermind of this project to help youngsters who could fall out of the game is Godfrey Torto, who was released by Chelsea as a youngster, after training alongside the likes of John Terry and Jody Morris.
He then became a successful football agent but he grew frustrated that he lacked the ability to help youngsters who had been kicked out of the game.
Torto’s ability to spot talent and love of football led him to start up his own community project. He admits that although he is delighted to have found three men good enough to go professional, he also aims to impact the lives of those who aren’t able to find a club.
“A lot of these lads, the majority of them aren’t going to become professional footballers,” Torto admitted. “And that is the reality I paint to them – it’s a very hard game. But if I can guide them, give them advice and just give them that chance where they can be seen.
“It was really out of the passion of trying to help people. When I was 17 I got released from Chelsea. At the time, I didn’t have anyone who could pick me back up.
“The reality of it is, I wasn’t released because I didn’t have the ability, it was more just because I was badly advised and I took the opportunity for granted. I just wanted to set something up that gave lads a second chance but then also give boys that maybe haven’t been seen before an opportunity.”
“Seeing Ibrahim last year, not earning any money, not really doing much with his life. Then putting him into non-league, he’s on £70 a week. Then going on trial at Leicester, he’s in the paper.
“Then signing his first contract, last week I helped him get a deal with Mercedes, he’s got his first car. So, for me to see him develop from that a year ago to this now, I love that. That’s what I do it for.”