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Feeling out of poverty

Norwegian agents are increasingly traveling to poor countries to sniff out football talents. With that, Norwegian football is changing, while the young boys are investing in the future to participate in Europe's football industry.


[football] "Edu, Edu, Edu!"

The colorful boy gang from Bjørndal, a drab town southeast of Oslo, is calling the beat-up nickname of its great hero: Chinedu Obasi Ogbuke. Meanwhile, the Nigerian Lightning striker defends Brann's defense. Alone with the keeper, he puts the ball first in the post before he dunks it safely into the goal on the return. The guys in the stands are exploding.

- Edu is the reason why we cheer on Lyn. He is superb.

- He has a game understanding.

- Really good ball technique.

- And he represents all of us foreigners.

New colonial period

- In recent years, we have seen how the year loss of players from south to north has become even clearer. The new thing is that Norwegian clubs have also become more active in their search for talent from poor countries, says Johannes Nymark.

He has written the book Verda's most important trifle. Essay on football and globalization, on what he perceives as pure human trafficking: 13-14 year olds from poor countries who are sent to Europe on false terms, and brutally dumped when they do not fulfill.

The increasing use of players from poorer continents is changing European and Norwegian football. There is often big money involved, and the young players are at risk of being thrown balls in the international football industry. Moreover, only a small proportion of those sent to Europe are successful:

- Many end up on the streets, in odd jobs, alcoholism or other forms of abuse. Football agents may have an extremely cynical attitude to this issue. Many people think this is not a problem – because the players would not have felt better where they came from anyway. Even if Norwegian agents want to distance themselves from such an attitude, they should still think about the consequences of what they do, Nymark believes.

Proper football shoes

A few days after the match between Lyn and Brann, at a cafe in Oslo. Edu finds a picture of himself in a newspaper and asks me to translate. He smiles happily when it comes to how he tricked the goalkeeper to Brann. Edu was born in Enugu but grew up in Abia, east of Nigeria.

- When I started playing football, I do not remember. Then I was so small. My first club was called Samba, because that was the kind of football we trained there. Technical football with emphasis on individual skills.

Early on, Edu decided to bet, and went to school that combined regular subjects with football training.

- None of us had proper football shoes. When I look at Norwegian children, I think they have everything. They get to go to school, train, play on teams, and they have proper football shoes.

One day came the most important message in Edu's life: He was asked to play for Nigeria's U17 national team.

- Amazing. Just before I received the message, I had seen the national team on television, and dreamed of joining. On the national team, I met Ezekiel Bala, who I play with at Lyn today, and John Obi Mikel who was at Lyn before he went on to Chelsea. But this is exactly what I do not want to talk about. Not about how I ended up on Lyn, how everything just became a mess, everything that happened to Obi. I just want to let it all go and move on.

Edu is among those who have noticed the game in the international football industry on the body. He too was said to be relevant to Chelsea in the autumn of 2005, at the same time as when Obi was a toss-up between Lyn, Manchester United, Chelsea and the agents, who all claimed to be entitled to him. Edu has the same agent as Obi. Later, teams such as Arsenal, Lokomotiv Moscow, Newcastle and Tottenham have been interested in Edu, but a happy root has ensured that he is still in Lyn.

The ball boy

After U17, Edu moved up to the U20 national team. During the World Cup in the Netherlands in 2005, Nigeria reached the final, where they lost to Argentina.

Edu smiles.

- The funny thing was that six years earlier the U20 World Cup had been held in Nigeria, and then I was a ball boy. My highest wish then was to join the national team one day. And now I scored in the final.

Edu says that many young boys in Nigeria see football as an opportunity to create a better future.

- We have many talents. Unfortunately, there are many who never get the opportunity to show up. I think you need a good dose of luck. Someone has to discover you and take you abroad. You can not travel alone, because it is too expensive.

- Many good players go to Europe. What does it do with Nigerian club football?

- I do not see it as a problem. Everyone wants to show up for a bigger club, so when someone travels you just have to be happy on his behalf.

- Have you heard of players who have been treated badly on the way from Africa to Europe?

- There are many stories. You just have to learn from them and try to do things right.

Johannes Nymark believes that the new football follows the same principle as in the colonial era: Goods and people go from south to north. The talents are in the south, while the money is in the north.

- I am often in Argentina, where my favorite team is Boca Juniors, and every time I come to Buenos Aires I have to update myself on who plays there. Since last time, many of the players have always traveled to Europe.

He believes this has a detrimental effect on club football in the south.

- It means that the club teams from there can not assert themselves against the teams in the north. The quality is declining. At the same time, they are constantly experiencing a steady influx of new talent, because among the poor, football is seen as a possible way up and forward. A young boy will risk being exploited by both family and talent scouts. If we look at players from Brazil, it is mostly only Kaka at AC Milan who comes from the middle class. All the others are from the working class or extremely poor conditions.

One of several thousand

When he was quite young, Edu traveled with Mikel, Bala and another friend to the South African club Ajax Cape Town. What was it like moving away from home?

- I missed my family. At the same time: Football was what I wanted to do. And it probably helped that we were four friends traveling together. We were like brothers, playing and spending time together. Many people probably have a harder time.

Of the many thousands of young boys who are singled out in the same way as Edu every year, it goes without saying that an overwhelming majority fall through.

- There can be many reasons. Maybe because of the climate or the environment in the club, there are many who do not perform their best. Playing football in Europe and Nigeria are two quite different things, and the ability to adapt to a more system-oriented football can be difficult. At least I thought it was very confusing to start with Lyn.

Edu says he is grateful for his career.

- I am very happy to be among the few who have managed.

Norwegian players too expensive

Eddie Gustafsson, Lyn's goalkeeper since 2006, has a somewhat different story than Edu. Born in the USA, raised in the Bahamas, since that is where his mother comes from, but a Swedish citizen and resident in the neighboring country since he was six. There and then it was he started with football. After various Swedish clubs, he came to Norway and Molde in 2002. How does he view the debate about foreign players?

- I think I have been well received in Norway. The debate about foreigners in Norwegian football will always be there. Personally, I think it is important that they – we – are here to increase the entertainment value. Look at Edu: No one else is like him. For the audience, it makes Norwegian football better. You have to have a mix of different player types.

At the same time, Gustafsson sees the problem in relation to the development of Norwegian talents.

- Developing Norwegian talents is expensive. It is actually cheaper for a club to bring in three Icelandic players than to develop one Norwegian. Then it will be difficult for the clubs to get their own players. But you see the same pattern in, for example, England: A neat finished first-team player from Hungary or Austria can be far cheaper than betting on a young talent. Then the choice is often easy.

Lyn has four players from outside the EEA area: one Australian, one Argentine and two Nigerians. In addition, they have three from Sweden, one from Denmark and two from Iceland.

- There is a limit to how many non-Europeans you can have on the team. Such restrictions do not exist in ordinary working life, and I think free working conditions should also apply here. But maybe there can be a bit of a flow of players from time to time.

Neoliberal football

Gustafsson emphasizes that for many, football can be a way out of poverty. It should also be a matter of course that a club takes good care of those who come from far away.

- They must be protected. If you move away from home early, you need to be mentally strong. If not, you may be performing poorly on the pitch and having a short career. This is of course difficult for a club to know in advance. They can see a player they think is perfect, think aj aj, we must have him, and then he will be a big disappointment if he is unhappy. Therefore, it is important to take good care of those who settle alone far from family and friends.

When he was 16, Gustafsson traveled to Sheffield to play football for a week as a fellow.

- There is no doubt that my parents thought I was young. The choice is difficult. I think… had it been my son, I would have said yes too. My experience was just great. I stayed with a good host family and it's just coming home if it does not work.

Some of the players obtained are doing well, others may have major problems in the face of the football industry. In the same way, Nymark believes the sport can derive both advantages and disadvantages from the flow of players.

- What does it mean that we have players from other countries in Norwegian football?

- On the one hand, it makes Norwegian football much better. On the other hand, it means that Norwegian talents do not escape, and thus the national team will be worse. Another aspect is that a talent from the south will be far more willing to invest everything in football: Norwegian talents have so many other opportunities that they do not have, such as getting an education or getting another job, says Nymark.

He believes that the current football system, with virtually free purchase and sale of players across national borders, helps to cement neoliberalism.

- The system is the bearer of a dream, or illusion, that one should succeed. It is an effective tool for turning people to the neoliberal ideology. The reason is that football is so popular, and you never ask political questions about it. ■

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