Imagine supporting a team made up entirely of young local players who have known each other all their lives, who have grown up, trained and progressed together, made their professional debuts together and won trophies together.
A utopia to many, that dream is one that has been fulfilled by the fans of ASEC Mimosas, the Côte d’Ivoire club whose history has been made all the more glorious by their ability to nurture and get the best out of their home-reared talents.
Continuing its tour of the world’s great clubs, FIFA.com turns the spotlight on the Abidjan giants, famous across the globe for their ground-breaking and hugely productive academy.
Birth of an institution
ASEC stands for “Amicale Sportive des Employés de Commerce” (Sporting Association of Business Employees). As that name suggests, it was founded by a group of workers employed by companies in the Ivorian capital of Abidjan, all of them football fanatics.
Hailing from France, Burkina Faso, Benin, Ghana, Togo, Senegal and Lebanon, they pooled their passion for the game and founded a club, which came into being on 1 January 1948 in an Abidjan suburb by the name of Sol Beni (French for “blessed sun”). Adopting the mimosa flower as the club’s symbol, one that still features on its badge, they also chose yellow and black as the colours of the new outfit.
Stepping out in the Abidjan League, they would quickly strike up a rivalry with Africa Sports, the team that would become their eternal foes. Coached initially by co-founder Trenou Alfred Seho and then by George Koffi, it was under the Frenchman Guy Fabre, ASEC Mimosas’ first professional coach, that the club began to lay solid foundations. Appointed in 1954, Fabre preached a simple maxim that would later become the club motto: “Children have fun when they play football”.
The making of a legend
Fabre’s charges proved him right when they went out and won the Abidjan championship in his first year at the helm. It was the first of many trophies that would come ASEC’s way. In 1955 he led his team to the final of the French West African Cup, where they lost out to Senegal’s US Goree. The Abidjan side appeared in the final again in 1956 and 1958, and though they came away empty-handed on both occasions, the experience was to stand them in good stead.
Four years after the second of those defeats they secured their maiden national trophy, the Côte d’Ivoire Cup, which was followed 12 months later by their first league title triumph.
Les Jaune et Noir enjoyed a purple patch at the end of the decade, winning the cup four times in a row between 1967 and 1970, the last of those successes coinciding with a second league crown. Though coaches came and went, ASEC maintained their reputation as a flowing, inventive team, one spearheaded at the time by the striker Laurent Pokou.
Four straight championship wins followed between 1972 and 1975, with the Abidjan side adding further cups in the first two of those seasons. Having satisfied their fans’ every wish on the domestic front, they then set their sights on conquering Africa.
Their initial forays in the African Cup of Champions Clubs met with little success. However, they did reach the semi-finals in 1971 and again in 1976, losing to Canon Yaounde of Cameroon and Hafia FC of Guinea respectively, a 5-0 second-leg defeat in the latter tie bringing an ignominious end to a golden era.
The return of Fabre in 1979 yielded a seventh domestic crown a year later, the end of a five-season drought. Nevertheless, it would be another decade before they reigned at home again.
The gloom was only lifted with the arrival of Roger Ouegnin as president, the catalyst for their emergence as the premier force in Ivorian football. The son of one of ASEC’s founding fathers, who had himself occupied the president’s seat in the late 1950s, Ouegnin brought the fading Mimosas back to life, pulling off his first masterstroke by appointing Frenchman Philippe Troussier as head coach. A championship hat-trick followed and even when Troussier left to be replaced for successive one-season spells by Eustache Mangle, Charles Albert Roessli and Mamadou Zare, the trophies kept coming.
ASEC’s supremacy was underlined by the fact that they went unbeaten in 108 games from December 1989 to June 1994. Club heroes Alain Gouamene, Abdoulaye Traore (also known as Ben Badi), Donald Sie and Basile Aka Kouame were so influential at the time that they also formed the backbone of the Côte d’Ivoire side that won the country’s one and only CAF African Cup of Nations title in 1992.
The highlight of that golden period would be reached in 1998, when after four semi-final failures and a 1995 final defeat to South Africa’s Orlando Pirates, ASEC finally tasted glory in the CAF Champions League (formerly the African Cup of Champions Clubs), beating Dynamos of Zimbabwe in the final.
Perhaps Ouegnin’s greatest achievement, however, was to co-found the fabled Academie MimoSifcom in 1994 with former France international Jean-Marc Guillou. Unique in Africa, the academy has churned out a succession of talented players over the years.
Open to children from all social and ethnic backgrounds, it lays on free trials and provides its students with a training cycle that can run for as long as seven years, as well as a school education. The centre soon began to pay dividends, with its first graduates picking up the baton from the 1998 Champions League-winning side.
They showed their worth as early as February 1999, when an ASEC side featuring not one player over the age of 18 took on the mighty Esperance of Tunisia in the CAF Super Cup. Displaying a telepathic understanding, the untried teenagers swept to an emphatic 3-1 win, although with a teamsheet featuring the likes of Kolo Toure, Aruna Dindane, Boubacar Barry and Didier Zokora, a result like that should have come as no surprise.
ASEC have continued to reap the rewards of Ouegnin’s bold presidency and his lasting investment in the club’s future. Such has been Les Mimos’ domination in recent times that they have won an incredible 16 of the last 20 league titles. The man entrusted with the task of keeping the reigning Ivorian champions at the top of the pile is another Frenchman, Sebastien Desabre, who took over in October 2010.
Built in 1964 to host the Abidjan Games, the Stade Geo Andre has since changed its name to the Stade Felix Houphouet-Boigny, in honour of Côte d’Ivoire’s first president, the father of the nation. Ask any local fans where ASEC play, however, and they will answer, “Le Felicia”, the nickname by which the ground is more commonly known.
With a capacity of 65,000, the stadium is also the venue for the national team’s home games, and staged matches at the 1984 African Cup of Nations. It was last refurbished in 2009, in preparation for the African Nations Championship.