Dreams to Nightmares
A compilation of the awful ordeals young Nigerian football hopefuls go through while pursuing their dreams of becoming professional footballers. These dreams most often are successfully shattered by con-agents with a bag full of unrealistic promises that of course are never met.
The con-agents always come up with stories that portray them as widely travelled football enthusiasts, with huge networks of contacts. They go on to say that they can land an aspiring talent, identified by them, a life-changing start to professional football somewhere in a major European league or some other lucrative locations around the globe.
They create a kind of visual stimuli that appeals to the fantasy of the target player and then go on to cajole the families, friends and sponsors of these players into paying for services that are never initiated.
Once you pay, you keep paying as the number of fake documents in your personal mailbox increases and the picture of a dream move to Europe begins to take shape in your heart. Too little too late you realize that all that glitters ain’t gold. It’s been a scam all the way and the stories were all false with not a single iota of truth to them.
This begets the most horrible nightmare of some young Nigerian footballers who have fallen helplessly into the rackets of these agents of nothing and have given their all, including expending the family fortune, to see their dreams reduced to a point of no return.
FOOTBALL – A BIG GLOBAL BUSINESS
Football has grown exponentially in the last two decades with member countries numbering over two hundred; it can be said to be the most played sport in the world. The globalization of football has also seen it make a shift from being a game to a more business-minded enterprise, where so many people are trooping in to make ends meet and most likely have a cut from the over 300 billion dollar industry.
This explains the reason why every day a new football agent is formed, even though they have little or no qualifications at all to be in the circle of sports management.
With an agent taking a commission of as much as 10% of a players transfer contract, salary or any other business deal, fishing out and signing a football talent who will later go on to be a superstar like John Obi Mikel – with a fat paycheck – becomes everyone’s calling.
Ralph Nkomo, one of Africa’s leading football agents who has represented some high profile names in times past, was quoted in an interview by African Business Magazine, thus, “This is a big business and everybody wants a part of it.”
Nkomo, once managed Zimbabwean football legend Benjani Mwaruwari, as at the time he plied his trade in England and also had some professional dealings with legendary Kanu Nwankwo. No doubt he has made a name for himself and harnessed fortunes as a football agent as well as being a scout for Portsmouth FC in Africa. A good business year for Ralph will see him add up over a million pounds into his account.
He, however, made known the fact that working as a football agent really does take skill. It takes skill to broker and negotiate employment contracts and securing endorsement and other investment opportunities for players. In an ever-changing world, it will be a disservice if an agent does not possess business management and risk analysis skill.
CASES OF SCAM
Every day, a young Nigerian footballer in a bid to kick-start his career is in talks with some funny guys self-branding themselves as FIFA licensed agents or more recently simply as an intermediary with nothing credible to offer.
Adebayo Samuel Kunle and Olayinka Stephen Damilare both fell for the same scammer who promised them a partway to Europe via Sri Lanka football tour. The players were to go on a tour of Sri Lanka football among other team members to perform wonders in front of some top European scouts who will take them to Europe if they put up an impressive show that meets the taste of the imported scouts.
The tour was also expected to expose them to local pro teams in Sri Lanka who will pay them a thousand dollars monthly plus an apartment for their services if they get signed. Sri Lanka football federation is rated 220 in the November 2016 FIFA ranking.
For this new dream to set in motion, they were first made to pay a total sum of 600,000 naira for visa procurement and flight tickets. This they did in good faith and waited thereafter for their visas to come out since June 2016 until date. The players, having lost patience and trust in the whole process, demanded to know what has stalled their visas at the Sri Lanka embassy. To their dismay, Mr Agent did not come forward with anything that makes sense instead he counters offered them a new opportunity in Madagascar with the burden of full funding on the players.
Samuel and Stephen sharply declined the new offer through their representative and demanded the return of the money they paid for the Sri Lanka deal that never came through. Ever since then, nothing has been heard from the agent as he would not return calls and messages directed to his phone.
Although the cookies might have crumbled for these guys, they are still hopeful and pray they not only get the money back but also to recover their international passport that has long been in the possession of this wonder agent who is at large.
Hakeem was another ambitious player born to the family of three and has been renowned for trying to follow his dream through to reality since he was a little boy. Shortly after his 17th birthday, he was presented with an opportunity to give his age-long dream a leap by an agent who claimed to have seen the right strings in him to pin down a professional contract in any football league of the world.
Delighted, Hakeem has been in touch with this agent for a while and he has constantly promised him a career in the Middle East. The process kick-started in the usual manner of making a down payment of $300 for invitation and visa processing. He informed his family of the new opportunity that has been introduced to him by his newly found agent. The family in a quest to bring about the success of their ward swung into immediate action by providing the first down payment as requested. The visa to Dubai came thereafter and Hakeem was set to fly in, to be accompanied by his agent to the oil-rich region, with the hopes of signing a professional contract. Before they took off, Hakeem was asked to pay $4000 deposit in order to ensure that he is placed on a team over there.
Hakeem’s family, excited to see a Dubai visa, gave in and rally around to make up the sum and then passed it over to Mr Agent after which the trip to Dubai was made. Upon reaching Dubai, he was first placed in an amateur team to train before the trial proper until he never saw the agent again. With the visa due to expire in less than a week, Hakeem was in disarray as he never had a clue what could happen next since his tour guide was at large. Reality dawned on him, alas, he became another victim of football scam that has left him stranded in Dubai. He has since taken the only option of flying back home to Nigeria with the hope of travelling again someday but with a more competent agent and for a genuine offer that won’t drain his family or put them in debt.
Johnson 20, jumped at the opportunity of attending a trial in South Africa believing he will be moved from there to Europe. He paid all the money asked of him to the tune of $3000 to cover for accommodation in South Africa and the crossover to Europe. He got to South Africa and was not allowed entrance into the country as he was greeted with an immediate deportation for not having a clear purpose of travel which is evident from the incomplete papers he presented to immigration officers at the airport. Johnson disappointed and heartbroken flew back home on the next flight to Nigeria, tried to contact his agent upon arrival but his number switched off and till date, has not come on. For Johnson, he has not forgiven the man who has now gone into oblivion. He is hopeful he will find him someday and make him pay for the disunity he has caused his family.
ABOLISHMENT OF FIFA LICENSE VS INTERMEDIARY
Before April 2015, the order of dealing with players in terms of contract negotiations and general player management was only possible if a person is registered by FIFA to act as an agent. The licensing process includes taking an exam set by the governing body in order to quantify the level of understanding of the game by the applicant. This is believed to kick out those who fail to pass from acting as agents. It also added value and Genuity to the whole business.
In April 2015, FIFA fully implemented a 2009 agreement with the European Union to review and restructure how things are done with regards to player/agent relationship. This new order was supposed to come as a sledgehammer on the dodgy agents who have since taken over the business from the supposed licensed FIFA agents. It has been reported that only 30% of international transfers are completed by FIFA licensed agents hence the rehabilitation of the sector.
However, FIFA has gone beyond expectations by liquidating even the licensed agents and totally abolishing the whole process by introducing what has been classified as an open market for any sane person to transact. The “Intermediary” is now what is obtainable in any player\agent relationship.
Intermediaries will not have to pass an exam or hold a license in order to represent a football player, as was the case previously.
According to FIFA, anyone who has an “impeccable reputation” and who has not been convicted of a financial crime or a crime involving violence, can represent a football player or football club in contract or transfer negotiations. The governing body also went further to set a 3% benchmark for intermediaries’ commission as against the traditional commission averaged between 7-10% during the “FIFA licensed agent era”.
FIFA in a bid to hold strong to its priority of minor protection prohibits the compensation of intermediaries involving players under the age of 18.
The new intermediary rule has ever since its proposal been greeted with heavy criticism for putting a veil on the dodgy guys and weakening the vulnerability of the unsuspecting young footballers who are just at the doorstep to take in any contract that promises to take them to Europe. Some stakeholders and top football administrators believe the “free for all” market system opens up more avenue for the dodgy guys to dish out their evil genius without ever being caught. They strongly kick against the scrapping of the licensing system as it is seen as a gateway for more quackery domination of the sector.
Concerns have been raised by Jake Marsh, head of training and youth protection, sports integrity, at the international centre for sports security(ICSS) Doha, Qatar. He contended that the new reforms open players up to more forms of exploitation. “We could potentially see more trafficking and it will become harder to investigate,” Marsh said.
Foot solitaire, a football charity, operates mostly among young athletes from the francophone region of Africa. They help in the rehabilitation of abandoned young footballers on the street of Paris whose tall dreams of a professional football in France has been cut down to living from hand to mouth with nowhere to sleep.
“It’s a catastrophic reform for the protection of players, particularly young ones, and especially in Africa”‘ said Jean Claud Mbuovmin the founder of foot solitaire in an interview with Al Jazeera.
Abdelrahman Kurdieh, a Dubai based football intermediary, who has come in contact with a handful of abandoned players in the Middle East also lent his voice to the ordeals of this young African football hopefuls and his concern over the slim regulations that have been introduced by FIFA in recent times. He is worried that the new intermediary system could be a possible reason for the continuous rise in players trafficking and dreams exploitation by con artists brandishing themselves as football agents. “The intermediary decision by FIFA effectively removes the responsibility from their necks and passes it on to the football association of wherever a deal is going to take place. Gone are the tests and verification processes that to some degree weeded out these so-called agents. Now, every Tom, Dick and Harry can be an intermediary and it swings the door wide open for corruption and exploitation, especially in Africa. Players need to be vigilant and they need to make sure the decisions they make are sound. If the deal is too good to be true, it probably is. Football is a difficult business and if someone is promising you things that seem too good, ask questions, verify the information and make an informed decision. It is much better to let an opportunity go and search for a better one that is more authentic than to just jump at anything that comes your way.”
For a few, the dream of playing professional football is actualised. But for many, this dream is made a nightmare as a result of their poor education or a lack of it.
Written by : Japhet Zubairu, a Law Graduate at the University of Abuja, Nigeria. He is the CEO of Valiant FC in Lagos. Twitter @Egisoko23