With footballers such as Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mané and Riyad Mahrez lighting up the Premier League each week, the profile of African footballers has never been higher. Yet the process for gifted African players getting to top European clubs remains highly challenging, which is why Mauro Sanna – president of Atletico Lusaka FC – set up a club in Zambia three years ago with a unique proposition.

Atletico Lusaka compete in a senior league, in the third tier of Zambian football, but the squad is made up entirely of bright young prospects with an average age of 17-years-old. Italian Sanna started on this path by introducing futsal (mini-football) in the country “just as a hobby”, but when he began to notice how much talent in African football was going to waste – that for every Salah or Mané, there were many more players missing out – he set up an XI-a-side team expressly to promote youth talent.

The young and talented squad of Atletico Lusaka has an average age of 17-years-old.

“Zambia at the moment has no big tradition in exporting young players like, for example, Western Africa or North Africa,” he explains. “Our aim is to show the type of talent which can be found at a young age here.”

Four teenage Atletico Lusaka players have travelled to Europe to experience playing with elite clubs – with one 16-year-old making a very favourable impact in Spain at one of the world’s biggest clubs. Key in making this possible is Wyscout, the football platform for videos and statistics utilized by top European clubs, which helps break down barriers by facilitating scouting from remote locations.

With Wyscout, you can underpin subjective opinion with video and data evidence from players around the world.

“If a club is really serious about developing future prospects, they have to use a tool like Wyscout,” says Sanna. “Because otherwise it's very difficult for clubs to judge a player. They don’t want heavy highlights videos, because they cannot see real statistics or appreciate the context.

“Games need to be recorded and uploaded on a platform that is trusted by clubs. They know that data is genuine, that the video is not speeded up, and that it is not only the best performances cut together… So for me, this is the future of scouting. And that's why we invested in Wyscout immediately. As soon as the club decided to participate at senior level with a youth team, this was our first target.

“I just came back from Spain when one player was spotted by a big club – and he was found through Wyscout.”

“If a club is really serious about developing future prospects, they have to use a tool like Wyscout." Mauro Sanna – President of Atletico Lusaka FC.

Sanna is bursting with pride when he speaks about the progress of Atletico Lusaka’s youngsters. “Two weeks ago, we played with a boy born in 2008 – and he scored a brace and gave an assist!” he marvels. “Thirteen years old! And he is going to be selected in the national under-17 team. And in the last FIFA window, Zambia played a friendly and one of our players who is 17 years old debuted in the senior team.”

Joseph Sabobo Banda, one of the brightest prospects in Zambian football, was discovered by a top European club via Wyscout. The 16-year-old winger/forward is already so advanced that Atletico Lusaka have loaned him to the club top of Zambia’s Super Division where he has already won his first League Championship and will play in the CAF Champions League next season. 

“Already the status of Sabobo is quite high because he broke records at under-17 level,” says Sanna. “He got his first call-up for the senior national team at 15 and is the one that I went with to Spain – and the response was: fantastic player; he is a player for our club.”

Key stats from Atletico Lusaka's Joseph Sabobo - one of Africa's best young talents.

Sanna picks out two more gems from Atletico Lusaka’s ranks to keep an eye on. “Gift Siame, a midfielder who is 15 years old. We will see him in the under-17 national team, I think, in November in Africa Cup qualifiers. Then there is 13-year-old Frederick Ngululu, a left winger. And in the world right now, there are not many left-footed wingers with the characteristics to be spotted by two very big clubs already.

“So these are two incredible prospects, but there are many others – and, as I say: the games are on Wyscout. Clubs can go and watch and everybody can see what we are producing here.”

This is the vital element for Sanna: Wyscout helps to streamline the process at both ends. Sanna can simply direct clubs to the game videos and data on the platform, while the clubs know they can trust the authenticity of the footage and information they are getting.

Joseph Sabobo displays his skills on video. It's clips like this on Wyscout which allow overseas clubs to discover previously unknown talents like this.

Sanna’s concern is that players will get disheartened in their later teenage years without the incentive of a contract with a European club and may lose interest in football. “The players here in Atletico are privileged, because we have a company that can sustain many things that many other academy clubs cannot,” he says. 

“But the reality is, if you have a player today who is good enough at age 17 to play in the Premier League or La Liga or Serie A, he is denied that chance.”

Sabobo scoring another outstanding goal - this time for the Zambian Under-17 Team. (Sabobo was 15-years-old at the time).

This is one of the challenges Sanna faces in providing the best opportunities for his young players to thrive in the future. But at least Wyscout means that Atletico Lusaka’s players can attract attention from around the world.

“All the clubs that got in contact with us – if they then send scouts here or we send a player there – the response is always the same: the picture Wyscout gave us is exactly what the player is,” he says. “This is very important, because it means we are on the right path. So I don't have to appeal to clubs: ‘hire this player, you can watch this’, etc. I always say simply: our players are on Wyscout, go there and if you think a player is something special, then you can call me.”

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