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Buxton man is coaching Nigeria’s top footballing talent

Paul Ashworth with his successful football academy teams in Nigeria

Paul Ashworth with his successful football academy teams in Nigeria

Archant

A son of the Norfolk soil is nurturing Nigeria’s best young footballers during his latest stop on an unlikely global journey.

And he believes that the west African nation’s would-be soccer stars are “a lot better” than the most talented youngsters in the UK.

Paul Ashworth, who was brought up in Buxton and schooled in Aylsham, is running the Kwara Academy in Ilorin City.

It is the next stop on a footballing odyssey that has taken in coaching roles with Norwich City and Peterborough United, successful managerial roles in the top flight in Latvia and a short stint in Russia.

The 41-year-old, whose family has remained in Latvia while he is working in Nigeria, said: “It’s very different here. But I’ve lived in Latvia having not been able to speak the language, and they speak English here. And I’m pretty adaptable.”

Ashworth played at schoolboy level for Norwich City, but did not make the step up.

However, he helped to coach the boys’ team at the club and set up a football coaching company called PASS Soccer.

Kit Carson, then a youth coach at Norwich City, was impressed with Ashworth’s work and brought him into his coaching set-ups at Norwich and then at Cambridge United.

He moved to Peterborough Utd, eventually as assistant manager under Barry Fry, before a connection with Gary Johnson enabled him to get the job as head coach of Latvian side FK Ventspils.

After a successful spell, he moved to FK Riga, also in Latvia, then on to FC Rostov in Russia, making him the first Briton to work in the Russian Premier League. In 2005 he returned to Riga with Skonto.

Having secured the role in Nigeria, he said the Kwara Academy was taking the best footballing talent from the age of 13.

He said: “We select them from all over Nigeria. They are talented players and we are picking up the best ones. We’ve just sold one player to Ventspils, and he scored two goals in the cup final, which they won 3-1.

“We are sending three more over to Latvia next month, and we’ve got one going to Benfica in Portugal in two weeks.”

Ashworth said: “They are a lot better than the youngsters in the UK. They have a natural ability and hunger. They are out on the streets and the parks playing football every day.”

He added that the players’ equipment, including their football boots, could be “shabby”. But he was “excited” about their ability and their attitude.

● For more information about Paul Ashworth’s career, and other English footballers plying their trade overseas, visit www.lesrosbifs.net.

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