When Seth Nana Twumasi was coming up through the ranks at Chelsea, little did he know he was receiving the education required to create his own academy.
Twumasi led Chelsea’s Under-18s into the FA Youth Cup final in 2008, a side including Patrick van Aanholt and Jeffrey Bruma.
Chelsea lost on that occasion, with Manchester City triumphing 4-2 over the two legs, but an upbringing at Cobham and his Ghanaian heritage combined to bring him the idea of setting up an academy in his homeland.
“Three friends and I went to Ghana, where we are from, and were watching football on the street where we saw so many talented players – they didn’t have much, but they were just so happy,” Twumasi told ITV.
“We thought there was so much talent there that we should set up an academy, so we did.”
The purpose of the Mirage Football Academy is to take youngsters from Ghana and give them to chance to play in Europe, which was one of the key reasons behind the defender dropping out of the Football League in order to play part-time in the National League for Maidstone United.
“The academy is from under-14s to under-20, hopefully trying to find the next Michael Essien or the next star coming out of Africa.”
“It’s been running for six years now and we have a few players in European clubs on trials, we’ve got one at Werder Bremen, who signed in January, so it’s so far so good.”
The main rivals to Mirage is the Right to Dream academy, who Twumasi points out have never beaten his team.
For Twumasi, the hope is to give Ghanaian youngsters the best chance to get them to Europe through contacts and to ensure the teenagers are given the best advice possible.
“Playing myself, you know what sort of things go on in the football business, like some agents might not be what they say they are – there’s a lot of stuff going on.
“I try to use my experience of what I’ve been through and try to make sure that they don’t have to experience anything of the things I’ve been through and get them the best deal to make sure they’re OK.
“And that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing, and playing part-time allows me to spend time with them. I can be with them during the week and take them to a country they don’t know, to make sure they’re settled.
“Having someone from the same country to come speaking to them direct is helpful.”
Twumasi, now 26, has plenty of experience of football, having played for Peterborough, Northampton, Yeovil and Newport since leaving Chelsea. During his career he suffered a cruciate ligament injury and thought he might never play again at one stage.
Chelsea are now a mainstay of the FA Youth Cup final, but when Twumasi was leading the Under-18s it was a momentous occasion for the club as, like this year, the Blues faced Manchester City.
“Chelsea hadn’t been in a final for so long, I think it was about 50 years or so. It was a big thing for us to get there and we managed to get there, but failed at the last hurdle.
“I came through from Under-12s all the way up to the youth team and the then reserves and to be able to lead a group of immense talents – a lot of the players were brought in from all over the county – so to take them to the final was a big achievement for me.”
Of the team defeated by City, none became a first-team regular at Stamford Bridge and with the improvements made at the Chelsea academy, it is becoming tougher for youngsters to make their mark in West London.
“Obviously they’ve gone from strength to strength. It was hard for youngsters to break through – only a couple of them managed to go on to make a few appearances.
“Only Miroslav Stoch, Gael Kakuta, Patrick van Aanholt and Jeffrey Bruma made a couple of appearances, but they never became regulars, which is the disappointing side of it.”
Twumasi was rewarded with a two-year professional contract at Chelsea, but would not make a first-team appearance with the club, eventually deciding to leave for Peterborough United.
“Nothing is guaranteed in life, it was always going to be hard, but the thing is about being at Chelsea is there’s always a change of manager, so sometimes you can prove yourself under one manager and then they will go and another one will come in and you will have to prove yourself all over again.
“It can be very hard for youngsters breaking through and think that’s the case with the likes of Scott Sinclair, Ryan Bertrand and Michael Mancienne and they just felt they had to go out in order to play regular football.”
“It was a big culture shock for me; I’d lived in London all my life and then you’re outside of London on your own in men’s football and it was all about adapting to that stage and I couldn’t quite get used to it at the beginning.
“But the more experience you get, the more you realise that this is part of the football journey and it will take you anywhere you will have to go.
“It was a good experience and it was something that was needed to be done; I’d gone on loan to Dagenham when I was at Chelsea but I was still living at home in London, so it wasn’t far away but then, suddenly, you’re far away from your family and you have to just do it.”
While at Northampton, Twumasi suffered a bad injury, which resulted in undergoing knee reconstruction surgery and 18 months out when he was unable to play, making him thankful that he is still be playing at Maidstone.
“I was out for 18 months with the ACL and I was just coming back when I was leaving Northampton, and I thought no one would touch me as I hadn’t played for 18 months. But Gary Johnson gave me the opportunity to go to Yeovil when they were in the Championship, which I am very grateful for and it gave me the impetus to go on.
“I’d had some very dark times when I thought I was never going to play again, but he gave me the opportunity to do so.”
Twumasi is happy with his lot right now, but does hope to return to the Football League when the time is right.
“It’s a well-run club, I was at Newport last season and this is the first year I’ve been in the Conference, but it’s just good to be out there playing as I had a bad injury that made me think I was never going to play again.”