Dreams are what make a person hopeful. But do you know how it feels when you are exploited for your dreams? African countries are developing at a whopping 3.7% in 2019. But this rate is not consistent throughout the country.
In this state, the people go to any extent to achieve their dreams. Sometimes, they dip into danger. There are several stories from several African football players being scammed by men who call themselves the “agent”.
This is the story of football aspirants who wanted to go professional but ended up in shams. It has been observed in several African states. A shady person approaches ambitious football players making them promises the opportunity to play in major European leagues.
They usually target boys from 14-21 years old. They explain and gain trust from them and their families. The agents don’t have any license, just their words to hold them accountable. And we all know the value of words in today’s world.
They promote fake success stories of their agency. It might look weird to us but for parents who have seen the hard work of their kids, this seems like their only opportunity to see their kid succeed.
The player is asked to pay a hefty amount which is usually more than $4000. The agency seems legitimate with a fake license and other willing players. As soon as they receive the money, a visa is issued for the kid.
These kids are taken to… it depends on the fake agency. A few reach Europe or Nepal, others France, Istanbul, etc. Usually, they are accompanied by other players and the whole group is dumped in a house. The fake football agent leaves with the important documents to be never found again.
Few victims make it back home while others go missing for years trying to return. But all of them give up on their football dream. Many people have blamed Africans for not promoting sports and for parents being discouraging an athletics career. What they don’t see is the other side of the coin.
Here are some self-experienced stories from players and their families.
Ndiaye got a call from one of these ‘agent’ for his son Bouba. The agent claimed to have seen Bouba play and that he has a bright future. The fake agent asked to visit their house to explain the procedure. Ndiaye agreed and the next day they were there. They looked and sounded African but they claimed to live in Europe.
They gave evidence of their success stories in form of newspaper clippings, ID cards, videos, etc. This was enough to make Ndiaye’s wife and brother believed in their promises. They paid 2.8 million francs CFA ($4,200) for their son’s bright future. Ndiaye sold the only piece of land he owned for this opportunity.
The process after that was so swift Ndiaye was actually impressed. He was happy to get an EU visa in Senegal, let alone suspect these people. He thought they are set on the right foot when seeing his boy off with the agents. He got a call from his boy after a month. Bouba said he had not played a single match since being in Portugal. The agent left 3 days after they arrived and never returned. That was the last they heard from their son in 2019.
Aboubacar Sidibé is another such victim of a fake football agent. The agent told him he had contacts with the Indian football association which could be a start for his career. Sidibé did not think twice he wanted to be a big player so bad.
He paid the agent £2,700 ($3500) and received his visa. The manager did not travel with him. Sidibé found himself in Nepal which is the least likely country to be in to kickstart a football career. He calls the manager and received empty good wishes. The manager explains that Nepal is the beginning, next he can move to India and further to Europe. But at this point, even Sidibé knows he has been cheated.
He is not alone and is accompanied by 5 other African football players in his small room. He has stopped going to football practice and is trying to save to move back to his country-Mali. He doesn’t have a bed or sheets to sleep on. They sleep on the floor and sit on buckets. Their kitchen consists of one rice cooker and a cardboard box with little vegetables.
He spent all his money on paying the fake agent and buying a one-way ticket to Nepal. He focuses on earning to survive. He said they had to play matches where the winning amount was a mere $20. They tend to play at 9 pm, take the bus at 3 am and are again expected to play at 6 pm. This lifestyle has made them despise the country. Nepal only accepts legit pliers invited by clubs, which these gentlemen have no proof of.
Charles Ngah was lured in with a chance to play with Esperance Tunis [Tunisia’s biggest football club] in 2013. He was already playing in a division 2 club in Cameroon. The agent called him to his office and even introduced him to 5 other football players. They all paid 750,000 francs ($1,200) and were flown to Tunisia. They stayed in a luxurious hotel for a week and were then shifted to a small apartment building. They met other football players from Nigeria and Ghana.
They were kicked out of the apartment soon and realized they all had been scammed. They went in search of work and for survival. They do odd jobs and some are even unemployed. Unfortunately, Tunisia has a policy of fining if people overstay their visas. They all have to pay the penalty amount to leave for their home. The embassy had to organize several trips to deport boys that have been scammed like this. Yet more keep coming every year.
The truth about playing in a major football league is, “Even if you are the next Lionel Messi, no club would listen to you. They all insist on coming through the right channel, which is being transferred by a local club to their team. The fake invitations organized by crook agents could get you in trouble there.”
FIFA is making more strict rules about no money being required for invited players below the age of 18. Africa is trying to regulate and locate these fake football agents. Extensive awareness camps are being held across the country. But all these steps go in vain when people blindly trust agents for a soccer career. The more issues that come to the highlight, the better precautions can be taken. People who lose thousands of dollars and get bad survival conditions in return tend to let football go. They find other purposes in life like raising a family and making the best of their situation.
We hope people are being precautions and smarter than the fake agents. And may the victims continue to play the sport for joy more than anything else.