Luis Figo
Photo: Reuters

Here’s a Sonny Side of Sports salute for Luis Figo, the former Portuguese soccer star who says he’s planning to open a football academy in South Sudan, Africa’s newest country. At a news conference in the capital, Juba, the 2001 FIFA World Player of the Year said the academy will focus on education as much as football.

“We are in the first steps,” says Figo, “but for me it’s always very important to conciliate the football and the education. Because you never know if you’re going to be a professional football player or not. If you don’t study, you don’t deserve to play.”

Star Petroleum, an international oil company that operates in South Sudan, is helping finance the academy. Company officials say children age 10 and younger will be trained in South Sudan, while older players will be eligible for scholarships abroad, including Spain. As part of the initiative, they say South Sudanese coaches will also receive scholarships for training.

Luis Figo celebrates a goal for Inter Milan in 2007.
Photo: Reuters

The planned Luis Figo Football Academy is getting an enthusiastic response from Sonny Side of Sports Facebook fans in Africa.

Luis Figo and Ghanaian teammate Sulley Muntari at an Inter Milan match in 2009.
Photo: Reuters

Musa Fab Lib Bangura, writing from Freetown, Sierra Leone, says, “Luis Figo, God will definitely bless you for having such a great idea.” And Pitso Nelson Makhanya, writing from Mafeteng, Lesotho, says, “that’s great news for Figo, South Sudan and the African football family.”

Luis Figo retired from football in 2009. He made 127 appearances for Portugal’s national football team, making him the most capped Portuguese player in history.

At the club level, the 40-year-old Figo played for Sporting CP in Portugal, Inter Milan in Italy, and Barcelona and Real Madrid in Spain.

The attacking midfielder is also remembered for his spectacular goals. Figo scored 32 goals for Portugal and 91 total for his four European clubs.