The Desert Foxes of Algeria have undoubtedly been one of the best teams at the Africa Cup of Nations and are favourites to win the entire tournament. Led by star winger Riyad Mahrez, who plies his trade with Premier League champions Manchester City, the Algerian team has won all 4 of its matches in Egypt, scoring nine goals and not conceding a single goal in the process.
While Mahrez is already a household name, some of the rising stars on the team like Youcef Atal and Ramy Bensebaini, both starters on this Algeria team, are starting to make a name for themselves as well. Both Atal and Bensebaini, as well as Hicham Boudaoui, the youngest player on the side, are homegrown players, products of the famed Paradou academy which has quickly become renowned for producing talent in Algeria.
In June 2007, Paradou Athletic Club, a small second division club based in the Hydra neighbourhood of Algiers, signed a partnership with the JMG Academy to launch a football academy, the first of its kind in Algeria. JMG, led by Frenchman Jean-Marc Guillou, has had success previously in the Ivory Coast with the ASEC Abidjan academy that produced stars like Yaya Touré, Kolo Touré, Salomon Kalou and Didier Zokora.
When the Paradou academy launched in 2007, Guillou told reporters: “I can tell you that 70% of the players you see in front of you will make up the backbone of the Algeria national team.” While Guillou’s prediction might have been a tad-bit exaggerated, the Paradou academy has nonetheless become a pipeline for producing talent, with players from all over Algeria competing for a place in the club.
Eight Algeria internationals
Since the academy has kick-started, eight Paradou graduates have gone on to play for the Algeria national team, including the trio of Ramy Bensebaini, Youcef Atal and Hicham Boudaoui, who are in Egypt for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. Another graduate, Farid El Melali, who has three caps for Algeria, signed last summer for French Ligue 1 club Angers. Zakaria Naidji, who plays with Bensebaini in the first promotion of the academy, finished as the top scorer of the Algerian league this past season with 20 goals, a milestone that hasn’t been reached since 1995. Raouf Benguit, another player from the first generation of Paradou academy products, played at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and has just joined the defending CAF Champions League winners Espérance de Tunis.
There is also no sign that the trend will stop any time soon. This past season, Paradou’s youth teams won the U21, U19 and U17 leagues, while the Algeria youth national teams are chock-full of Paradou players. Prospects like Adem Zorgane, the first player born in the 2000s to play and score in the Algerian top flight, and Haithem Loucif, a right-back in the mould of Youcef Atal, have already been linked with moves abroad.
Next season, Paradou will play in African competition for the first time after having qualified for the CAF Confederation Cup, an occasion for the rest of Africa to get a glimpse of what could be the future of Algerian football.
Walid Bylka is an Algerian football expert. Follow him for more fascinating stuff from DZ land at @bylka613_.
Cover photo: Published on CAF website by ©Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix