Elie Akobeto: From Benin to Bolton & the future

All photographs in this article have been provided to us by Elie Akobeto with permission for use.

Before conducting our interview today you spoke of potentially having some good news. Are there any developments for your current or future club in that respect?

Well at the moment I am not going to lie to you it is kind of hard with the pandemic going on and the leagues having started you do not know what is going on with the fixtures. No, there have not been any developments. I have been trying to look abroad because there was still some teams that needed players but eventually the deal did not happen and right now I am still a free agent.

You spent time in the youth setup at Bolton Wanderers. How do you look back on your time at the club and did you learn anything that stood you in good stead for your career as a professional footballer?

To be fair, my time at Bolton Wanderers was very interesting. I arrived at the club at the age of 15 and for me coming from France it was a total shock in terms of the style of football. I would say that the game is more physical and faster in England and also more vocal. In France we also have that but it is more technical and tactical, you make your run and that’s enough. Here in England I quickly realized I had to be vocal as a striker and demand the ball and it was quite brutal but I had to adapt quickly or the game was going to pass me by and it was a really interesting time.

You have been capped by your country of Benin at youth international level. How do you look back on representing your country and what are your highlights and memories of playing international football?

I have been called up twice for my country against Algeria and a local team respectively first at the age of 17 for the under 20 team and to be fair the first time I got called up it was a dream come true because to play alongside players from different clubs that were based in France as well as local players from Benin and it’s difficult to describe a lot of people from the same culture coming together and it’s weird really because I am a French citizen as well.

I grew up in Paris and coming to play for the Benin national team especially in a visual sense and feeling it’s tough to describe but a great experience and one I look back on in which I learned a lot because my manager at the time was a local manager from Benin so the coaching that you have in African Football is totally different so you have to adapt to different aspects and methods in training and it was fine and I really enjoyed it.

You have accrued a lot of experience at club and youth international level. Could you say who are among the best players you have played alongside so far in your career?

When I played for Benin. I came close to having the chance to play with Steve Mounié who was a striker who played for Huddersfield Town and Montpellier HSC in France. I was supposed to play with him but he was injured in that game.

I can imagine in your position as a striker that you have come up against many difficult opponents so far in your career. Could you say which opponents have stood out for you in terms of talent and ability?

Once time at Mansfield Town I played against the Nike Academy and they had some really good players Grimsby Town and a player that really stood out who is now at Peterborough United was Siriki Dembélé. He is a baller, he is really fast and strong and definitely was a player who stood out for me.

You have been on trial at many clubs and experienced a lot at different levels of the football pyramid. When you look back on such trials and experiences are there any particular people that you would like to thank or give a special mention to?

I remember being on trial at Arbroath FC and I was training with the first team and the whole time Dick and Ian Campbell, Rab Douglas made me feel very welcome so I would like to give them a special mention to the management team and to say thank you. Every time I would score a goal in training Rab Douglas was always hyping me up and encouraging me and from a trialist point of view that means a lot and when you get praise from the coaches it helps you out a lot.

I would also like to thank Cyrille Regis who has now passed on and I remember I used to go and watch one of my friends Cédric Kipré back in the day when played for Leicester City. He now plays for West Bromwich Albion but he is currently on loan at Royal Charleroi SC in Belgium and I met Cyrille Regis one time and at the time I was not getting game time or minutes and he took my number and we talked and he gave me a lot of encouragement.

When I was with the under 21’s at Mansfield Town we were allowed to go on trial at other places at Conference level also to get game time and senior experience and he also tried to send me to a club and I really appreciated that. Noel Blake who was England under 19’s coach for about seven years and I met him a while ago and I trained with him and I am currently based in Glasgow in Scotland and Ultimate Soccer based in the city has been great and throughout the pandemic I was trying to stay full time and training at Arbroath FC was twice a week and I was always going to Ultimate Soccer and training one to one with the coaches there.

Also, Michael Whitlow who developed me with coaching at Mansfield Town under 21’s. Sometimes I would ask Northern Ireland legend David Healy for a reference for this club and he would do it no problem and. I have been at some clubs on trial and I have been unlucky I have been injured and as of right now I feel I am in the stage of my career where I am at my best. They say you have to practice 10.000 hours to be an expert in your sport. I think I have done 20.000 hours and I am ready to play games but the hardest thing is everything coming down to the team and getting the managers’ trust especially if you have not played as many games as you are supposed to by your age which is my case.

I also have to thank Sir Alex Ferguson who wrote me a letter and he is one of the reasons why I am still trying to make it in the game back in 2014 I knocked on the door of his house with my CV and a letter because I had a teammate called Max Lonsdale who did the exact same thing and he told me about that story back then I nothing to lose so I did exactly the same thing.

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