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Kolo Touré reflects on UEFA Academy graduation

Freshly graduated from the UEFA Executive Master for International Players, Kolo Touré was announced as Wigan Athletic manager on Wednesday, becoming the first African international to manage in senior English football.

Touré (centre) with UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin (left) and Jean-Jacques Gouguet, president of the UEFA MIP Scientific Committee
Touré (centre) with UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin (left) and Jean-Jacques Gouguet, president of the UEFA MIP Scientific Committee UEFA

It marks just the latest stage in a trail-blazing career that during his playing days saw Touré join Arsenal in 2002, where he wrote his name into club legend as a member of Arsène Wenger’s “Invincibles”.

In 2009, he moved to Manchester City, and was later joined by younger brother Yaya. When City clinched their first Premier League trophy in 2012, Kolo joined a select group of players to have won the title with two different clubs. He finished his time in England with three years at Liverpool, becoming the African player with the most Premier League appearances (353 in total).

After one final season as a player at Celtic in Scotland, he joined the Glasgow club's coaching staff under Brendan Rodgers, and in 2019 followed Rodgers to Leicester City as first team coach.

Alongside his achievements at club level, he is the second most-capped player for Côte d’Ivoire. In total he made 120 appearances for his country from 2000 to 2015, culminating in victory at the African Cup of Nations.

Never one to shirk a challenge, Touré decided to combine that role with a test of his leadership and communication skills by pursuing the UEFA Executive Masters for International Players (MIP), a unique academic programme that prepares former elite footballers for transition into a second career.

As one of a total of 26 recent MIP graduates alongside the likes of Kaká, Kim Källström and Lise Klaveness, he revealed how immersing himself in academic life has led him to discover new attributes.

Touré vies with Sevilla's Coke during the UEFA Europa League final in 2016.
Touré vies with Sevilla's Coke during the UEFA Europa League final in 2016.AFP via Getty Images

Kolo, how did you find it going back to school?

It’s been challenging because, you know, when you’ve spent 20 years of your own life just playing football, focusing on everything on the pitch, focusing on everything about you, it’s always challenging to go back to school, because it’s really uncomfortable. But, it was a great challenge for me, and I really enjoyed that because I had to dig deep inside myself to find the strength and the belief to keep going.

You say it's uncomfortable, but does it help being alongside a different kind of team-mate in this environment?

I think what is really important is you are around people in the same situation as you, because most of the guys here have been doing their career for almost 20 years as well, they’ve been off school for 20 years.

You all find a common attitude and togetherness, helping each other, pushing each other and supporting each other. In my case, I had Michael Johnson who helped me a lot, talked to me, drove me when I was a little bit low. It’s very important to have that team mentality.

So even though you guys are used to playing football in front of thousands of people, to give a presentation might be a completely different thing that you are just not comfortable with...

Absolutely. You know, my comfort zone is just being on the pitch with guys from my team, players on the pitch, players on the bench and the staff. The responsibility is really shared then.

But when you have to do a presentation, it’s you versus the [audience], and you have to really make sure that you just do the job well, prepare very well first, and then do the job very well. It’s very, very interesting. I really, really enjoyed that.

Was this your favourite part of the course?

I would say that doing a simple thing like a presentation, you just find out who you really are, how you behave in front of people. I surprised myself because I felt like I was more able to just stand up there and talk and attract people, really.

I found some strength in me, and I surprised myself that I could do it. That was incredible. Before that, I was thinking “I can’t do that.” Definitely.

Travelling, going to different places has also been really, really interesting. Learning from different guys here, learning from different backgrounds, different countries, people from different countries, different leagues, was fantastic.

Touré raises the African Cup of Nations trophy following 2015 success.
Touré raises the African Cup of Nations trophy following 2015 success.Getty Images

Applications are now open for the next edition of the UEFA MIP. Former players can learn more and apply here.

What does the UEFA Academy offer for non-players?

The UEFA Academy provides opportunities for professionals working in the football industry to raise their game off the pitch through dedicated educational and management training.

Its wide range of courses help executives and specialists, including doctors and lawyers as well as professional players, develop their skills to gain a footing in the administrative side of the sport.

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