Arsenal options 2 first-year Thai academy students

English Premier League club Arsenal has optioned to buy two first-year students at Thailand's new JMG football academy, Montreechai Lumyongsatian reported in The Nation (Bangkok). Founded by ex-France international Jean Marc Guillou, JMG (Thailand) is now training 20 Thai youngsters aged 12-13 selected in a nationwide trial last year. The JMG program takes seven years which means the two best players from the academy's first-year students will be ready to make the move to Arsenal in 2012.

"This deal marks a significant shift in the way Thailand will be seen on the football map," JMG (Thailand) managing director Robert Procureur told The Nation. "In the past years many Thai companies were actually paying to either sponsor the sending of some Thai players on trial abroad or to bring in big European clubs on tour in Thailand, but the long-term benefit to Thai football was negligible. This is the first time that a major European club is ready to invest in Thai talent. We will soon start recruiting new young promising players for our second promotion and from then onwards you will see more and more Thais courted by top European clubs."

Guillou set up his first JMG academy in Africa's Ivory Coast (Côte d'Ivoire) in the early 1990s. Now, 70 percent of the Ivory Coast's 2006 World Cup team are reportedly graduates of the Jean-Marc Guillou Centre, based at Dagbe, 35 km outside of Abidjan city. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has already recruited two of them, Kolo Toure (2002) and Emmanuel Eboue (2005) and both quickly established themselves in the first team line-up.

Last year, Dan Brennan of The Times (London, described Arsenal's establishment of a five-year “technical relationship” with the Belgium football club, Beveren, in 2001. "Many questioned why they wanted to form a liaison with an ailing small-time club from Belgium," he wrote, but "Arsène Wenger was looking beyond the Continent.

"Belgium, with its laxer work permit regulations — it takes only two years to get an EU passport — offers a bridgehead into Africa. Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers have established links with Royal Antwerp and Cercle Bruges respectively. But it is Wenger’s and Jean-Marc Guillou’s relationship that makes the Arsenal-Beveren link special. Guillou formed his first Ivory Coast academy with support from AS Monaco, Wenger’s old club. It is now regarded as the finest source of raw talent in Africa.

"In return for technical support and provision of loan players drawn from the Highbury fringes and youth ranks, Arsenal have first shout on the Ivorian talent that Guillou churns out. Eboué is actually the first Beveren player to make the move to Arsenal. Touré arrived direct from ASEC Mimosas, although it was thanks to Guillou that he fell under the Highbury radar. Other Ivorians have come over on trial — Kolo’s brother, Yaya, who is now at Metallurg Donetsk — and Arsène Ne, who trained with Arsenal during the pre-season.

"Last week Beveren announced that Guillou plans to set up an academy in Thailand. Wenger will doubtless be looking on with interest," Brennan noted.