Frédéric Kanouté in the hot seat

UEFA cup-winning footballer on his new UAE football academy

The former Premier League footballer now lives in the UAE, where he has recently launched an academy. Benita Adesuyan meets him at Dubai Sports World.

You’ve just launched the KAFO Football academy here in the UAE. How has it been received so far?
It’s going well. Hopefully we’re going to launch a tournament, and at Dubai Sports World we are going to open our regular season from September in a school where we have a partnership, and we’re going to use their facilities, plus there are two more schools which are to be confirmed.

Why did you want to set up an academy?
Playing football is what I’ve done all my life, but I’ve always been interested and focused on the development of kids whether it’s outside of football or within it. I’ve been working with charities for kids in Africa, and I’m an ambassador for a football academy in Mali. Now that I’m settling here in the UAE, I wanted to pass on my skills and experience to the kids. I think it’s the perfect place because it’s in expansion all the time.

Is there a girls’ team at the academy?
Yes, there is, and we are also in touch with the local authorities because we set up a girls’ KAFO academy. We’ve already had a lot of interest from girls.

You’ve played football in England, China and Spain, and represented France and Mali. Who are you backing for the World Cup?
I’d like an African country to go far – further than quarter finals. I don’t think they’re going to win though because the competition is going to be really strong; I think the winner will probably be a South American team. I’m rooting for France also as I’m half French, half Malian – so we’ll see.

Did you prefer to play for club or country?
They are two very different things. When you play for the national team there is a little bit more pressure but it’s a special feeling. When you’re on the pitch you give your best whether it’s a club or national team.

How does it feel to score a goal for your country?
It’s something great – especially in something like the African Cup of Nations, when I played for Mali. It’s so difficult to explain the feeling because it’s incomparable.

You hung up your boots in November last year. How’s retirement going for you?
I’m happy not to have too much time off actually, because I’m busy with these projects, otherwise I wouldn’t cope with the fact that I don’t play anymore. I’ve played all my life and now I’ve stopped, so I stay busy with the projects. But I still play with friends when I have time.

So are we going to see you kicking about on the beach?
Yeah, every time there is a ball, I just want to play – even when I’m watching the kids do their drills at the academy. I can’t resist playing football.
KAFO Summer Academy at Dubai Sports World, Dubai World Trade Centre, Downtown Dubai, Sun-Thu 1pm-4pm, until August 30, www.kafoacademy.com (050 105 1999).

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