How Right to Dream became the Premier League's University of choice

Mohammed Kudus (left) and Simon Adingra (right)

Mohammed Kudus (left) and Simon Adingra (right)

TOM VERNON, the Right to Dream founder and CEO, has described the group’s Academies as “Universities of football.”

Having the organisation on a CV is now regarded as a kitemark of quality by elite European clubs - in terms of both the player and person. In recent months we've seen more and more Right to Dream graduates making big moves and big impact:

  • In August, Mohammed Kudus joined West Ham from Ajax for £38m and quickly became a key player for them. The midfielder scored six goals before Christmas, helping the Hammers record their best-ever points total at the halfway stage of a Premier League season (33). It was no coincidence that the Hammers’ form nosedived once Kudus departed for the Africa Cup of Nations.
  • The young player of AFCON - and the Man of the Match in the final - was another Right to Dream graduate, Simon Adingra. The Ivory Coast winger plays for Brighton, who he joined for £6m from FC Nordsjaelland (FCN) in June 2022.
  • The Seagulls have now turned to FCN for another Right to Dream: 19-year-old winger Ibrahim Osman. The teenager had been attracting interest from a number of other Premier League clubs, including West Ham, but decided on Brighton for a fee of £19m.
  • Other Right to Dream graduates are making waves too, including Mohamed Diomande, who joined Rangers on loan from FCN in January with the option of a £4.3m move, and Ernest Nuamah, who is on loan at Lyon ahead of a planned €25m Euro move, or Kamaldeen Sulemana, who plays for Championship high-flyers Southampton.

Each of these players followed the same path, from Right to Dream in Ghana to FCN in Denmark and onto bigger European clubs. What has struck their new managers is not only what good footballers they are, but what good people they are too.

Moyes has described Kudus as “a really good boy to work with” and marvelled at how quickly he managed to adapt to life in the Premier League.

WHAT MAKES RIGHT TO DREAM SPECIAL?

Right to Dream was launched by Vernon in 1999 in Ghana. Initially, the 16 players selected stayed in his house, but now there are Academies in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Denmark and USA.

There are several ways in which Right to Dream differs to the traditional model of youth development that we see in Europe. The first is in terms of the initial scouting and filtering process.


You can watch Ian Yates' presentation about Right to Dream's global recruitment strategy at the 2023 Scouting and Recruitment Webinar.

In total there are NINE presentations and five-and-a-half hours of quality content:

  • David Court: Multiple eyes, multiple times - using scouts to make predictions
  • Ian Yates: Global recruitment at Right to Dream.
  • Dean Austin: Setting up a club recruitment strategy.
  • Marijn Beuker: Using data and facts to identify true talents.
  • Skill Corner: Interactive session on game intelligence.
  • Simon Cooper: 12 key components of Academy recruitment.
  • Kevin Braybrook: Getting into scouting and recruitment.
  • Panel discussion: Human eyes v video and data.
  • Simon Wilson: Stockport Country's seven-year plan.

To buy the webinar, click the button below.

BUY WEBINAR

Last year, Vernon told the TGG Podcast that 100,000 kids attend Right to Dream trials every year. Of these, about 13,500 players were assessed in Ghana last year and 5,000 in Ivory Coast.

However, only 90 youngsters were resident at the Ghana Academy last year, illustrating what a huge filtering process this is. The reason that Right to Dream are so thorough in their scouting is that they make a five-year commitment to youngsters.

In contrast to some European Academies, they don't trawl wide and then jettison a lot of kids along the way, they make a long-term commitment. Ian Yates, Right to Dream’s Head of Talent ID and Football Pathways, told TGG’s 2023 Scouting and Recruitment Webinar that their scouting was as much about educational potential and character as about footballing ability.

“We have a truly holistic approach to the way we assess our talent,” he said. “All the kids we see, we will assess from a football and educational perspective. In addition, we ensure the character of the individual is also looked at. Are they creative, engaging, socially aware and what are the potential leadership qualities?

“We currently have 90 kids who are resident in Ghana and the vast majority are identified at 10 and 11 and offered five-year scholarships. We don’t remove anyone from the programme before that time.”

Vernon told the TGG Podcast (which you can listen to below): “We have 100,000 kids coming to our trials every year (across all their Academies) and are academically screening all those kids. We’ve got some super-talented scouts who are also looking for character indicators at the first phase.

“Then we run a process where we run regional and then final trials and within that, our academic and pastoral staff are all engaged to make it a holistic decision around academic potential, character potential and then footballing potential.

“One of the things I’ve learned, which is super hard to build into any talent ID, is that soul really matters. You can see soulful kids who have a joy for life and an ability to connect with people and a desire to squeeze the most out of every situation they get into. That is a really interesting thing for our future as well, which we haven’t really got into but talk about - what would soul scouting look like?

“We want to go to places that are overlooked, where people might believe excellence doesn’t exist, so we need to drive some core philosophical themes through our recruitment.”

For the children who are lucky enough to win a place at Right to Dream, an exceptional footballing and academic education awaits.

“We admit kids who we hope might be able to play pro football, but will be able to get a world-class education for free whether they play pro or not and go on and do amazing things,” Vernon said.

“The philosophy at Academy level is that we believe in development of excellent culture through our character programmes and our purpose programmes. We believe in the development of excellence in academics through our curriculums and pathways.

“And we obviously believe in excellence in development in football. So it’s a holistic model to development that is long-term commitment for every child and then trying to create the right pathway for every kid coming through our Academies, not just the ones who get into football.

“We see ourselves as Universities of football, where you can take that final step before going out.”

Perhaps you could go even further and describe Right to Dream as the Harvard of football. Indeed, several of the boys and girls have gone on to win places at Ivy League colleges in the United States.

For the most able footballers, FCN - which was purchased by Right to Dream with the help of investors in December 2015 - offers an established pathway into senior European football.

Vernon explained: "We wanted to control pathways for our players and prove that Right to Dream’s philosophy could be adapted into any context. So where better than in one of the most advanced societies on many metrics in Denmark? We also wanted to play with a team of homegrown teenagers or Under-21s and compete at the top of the league."

According to CIES, the average age of the side this season is 24.2 and last year 14 of the squad were graduates of either the Danish or Ghanaian Academy.

Vernon added: “Player sales in FCN have increased 340% from the six years before (we bought the club) to the six years after. In other developmental leagues, Portugal, Belgium, Holland, player sales have increased about 80% over that period.”

Now the Right to Dream students and graduates have several role models they can aspire to After his move to Brighton was announced last week, Osman said: “I’ve seen what the other Right to Dream players have achieved - Kamaldeen Sulemana, Mohammed Kudus, Ernest Nuamah and Mohamed DIomande to name a few. They’ve all motivated me to go the extra mile to prove how good I am."

In Kudus’s hometown of Nima in Ghana, there is a colourful mural dedicated to his achievements. It shows him heading the ball along with the words ‘Kudus dreams’ and ‘pride of Nima.’

When it was unveiled, a local fan said: “In Nima, we had great players before Kudus, but lack of discipline and commitment held them back.”

Right to Dream helped to change that.

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