THEY have trained twice a day in the searing heat of West Africa for the past 18 months, and now they are living the lifestyle of a professional footballer.
A trio of budding sportsmen from the Craig Bellamy Foundation in Sierra Leone has arrived in Wales to spend six weeks training with Cardiff City, and they are staying in the former Bluebirds captain’s house.
The young players: 14-year-old centre-forward Mustapha Bundu, central midfielder Santigie Koroma, 15, and Sulaiman Samura, a 14-year-old centre-back, yesterday took part in their first training session with the club’s under-15 side.
The teenagers are part of the first generation of 16 young footballers given five-year scholarships by the residential academy in Tombo, 90 minutes from capital Freetown, and are the first to get the chance to develop their skills abroad.
Speaking after a two-hour training session at Glamorgan Sport Park in Treforest, the youngsters all said they had enjoyed their first taste of football in South Wales.
Sulaiman told the Echo: “I enjoyed everything. The session was good; it was all about attacking. and defending. I want to improve my heading and my shooting while I’m here.”
Mustapha said the windy weather was very different from the 30°C temperatures they usually train in. “We are used to playing in the hot sun,” he said.
And Santigie said they were all grateful to Bellamy for the opportunity to train with the Championship side’s academy.
“Craig is very important to us because in our country that is the first academy, so we are happy,” he said.
The academy’s technical director, Johnny McKinstry, travelled to the UK with the budding players on Friday night, stressing “It’s been a good first session, they’ve settled in nice and quickly,” said the 26-year-old, who also paid tribute to Manchester City star Bellamy.
“The boys are staying with Craig’s family. He’s down with the Welsh team at the hotel but he was around to welcome them and get them settled in and I’m sure he will be up and down.
Even when he’s up in Manchester he tries to get back and see his family as he’s got young children. He’s around to give the boys a bit of advice and make sure they are all right.”
The trio is among 16 boys currently at the academy full time, with another intake of 16 due later in the year.