Supporting grassroots football

Arsenal legend Martin Keown on Wednesday laid the foundation stone for the construction of the Dashen brewery-funded football field in Gondar town in the Amhara Regional State. Keown arrived in Addis Ababa on Tuesday for a two-day visit linked to football activities in Ethiopia. Martin is the second Arsenal legend to visit Ethiopia in six months. In December 2015, Ray Parlour, voted by fans as one of the 50 Greatest Players of Arsenal, visited Ethiopia to encourage grassroots football by meeting children and youth under various football projects in Addis Ababa including one at the Ethiopian Sports Academy. Dawit Tolesa of The Reporter attended the question and answer session Keown had with reporters.

You have visited Gondar and Addis Ababa focusing on grassroots football development. How do you describe your visit?

Martin Keown: Well, we had an incredible trip. It’s my first trip to Ethiopia and of course I’m very pleased to represent Arsenal and coordinate with Dashen Beer. We had a program in the two days. We have travelled around and tried to looking for programs to put together for housing and pitches renovations. Working on grassroots football is a fantastic to do and it is always nice to be involved in the process.  Ethiopian football can be successful if it maximizes the benefits of its grassroots programs.

You just mentioned about the kids. Do you think that they have the quality to become professional footballers in the future?

When you look at the youngsters at the Addis Ababa Youth Academy, you will realize that the quality is definitely there. All that is required is providing them with the platform to do well. You know maybe working with coaches helpful. What we need to do is give them a clear message. When you work with them, you can see that they can improve very quickly. There is no difficulty here. They are very athletic and have good touch on the ball. It is all about creating   opportunities for them. They are the same with other African players. Do not doubt them. They can be professional players like other African players.

Were you amazed by the visit?

Well, first of all, I saw that people here love football. They played on the streets. The thing that I observe here is that a massive number of people wear the Arsenal jersey. The Semien Mountains are amazing. All I can say is that the view is quite stunning. Our travel to the Semien Mountains was truly remarkable and it was an amazing view. That is really something special to have in the world. The coffee here has been great. In addition to that the kids in Addis Ababa showed a good performance.

Arsenal has a huge number of fans in Ethiopia. Were you aware of this before you came here?

Maybe they like the quality of the football that Arsenal plays. Arsenal is well known for the brand of passing that Arsène Wenger installed over many years. You think of the great players like Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira and all the guys in the current squad. Now you have got different players. I have noticed that there is a big fans base in Ethiopia. So, the next generation is growing from the Arsenal point of view. We wanted to win the title this year but it was disappointing that Leicester City won it.  You have to give credit for your contenders and Leicester did a very special thing this year. We have to give them credit.

It has been 12 years since Arsenal won the premier league title. What do you think is the problem?

Well, they have won the FA just last season. It is also a fact that they continue to make it into the Champions League for more than ten years but I don’t know anyone who can be more disappointed than Arsène Wenger when Arsenal does not win the premier league. The current squad is good but I think he should spend a little bit more money. That is the issue that is being raised by everybody.  You know when you see one of your competitors picking up the trophy and enjoying themselves with champagne everywhere it is disappointing. You have to learn from your mistakes and work hard for better results in the next season. Now, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United and Manchester City need to do better next year.

What do you think Ethiopia has to do to develop its football?

Football is about hanging on dreams. We must give the next generation opportunities and the platform to go fulfill their dreams. If any anybody is good enough he or she can achieve what they dream. I think it is all about giving them the right lessons to succeed. The football pitch should be available. We also need to focus on giving them the necessary services and starting from the very beginning they should have formal trainings. Am not politician but the government really needs to play a part here in developing football pitches and green areas. It is not just to play football; it can also be used for other sporting activities. So, there is a social responsibility here. Dashen is doing a good job here but it is just the beginning and everybody else should follow this trend. We have seen good beginnings so far in Addis Ababa and Gonder. We need to spread the sprit all over the country.