This article is machine translated by Google from Norwegian[player hunt] – I will become a football player when I grow up, says the barefoot boy.
He tricks with a small ball on the brown, trampled course in Jamestown in Accra. The boys' gang in the Ghanaian capital play football all day long. Some are wearing the Ghana national team kit, while others are wearing the Chelsea kit. They all have a dream of becoming one of the stars of the Ghanaian national team – of coming to Europe and of supporting their families. It is in this part of Accra that several of the stars on the national team who impressed during the World Cup in Germany were born and raised.
A few months later: Another group of African boys has embarked on the long journey many of the boys on the Earth course in Accra dream of. Made for the Diambars football academy from Senegal, Kurland Coop meets at Ekebergsletta in Oslo, Norway. Tip Pape Mowba Didum Sow dribbles Norwegian defenders and puts the ball in the goal. He is 14 years old and at the Norway Cup.
Absolutely okay to buy people
In football, it is still legal to buy and sell people. Every year, thousands of hopeful schoolboys from poor countries in Latin America and Africa travel to Europe. Most of these players never get any contract with European football clubs. At the same time, the European clubs are making big money from reselling African players that they made contact with when the boys were very young.
Hopeful football-playing boys stand in line to let go of freedom. They leave the future to European clubs. It is not uncommon for boys' families to be lured with adventurous wealth and tricked into paying large sums to agents who claim they can help the boys to a life of abundance in Europe.
"This is our current version of the slave trade," former Cameroon national team player Jean-Claude Mbvoumin told the International Herald Tribune. In France, there are probably over 7000 young people under the age of 18 staying in the country illegally, after being left to themselves by the agents who brought them to Europe. Mbvoumin has for the past six years run a voluntary center north of Paris, and only in his area does he know of at least 600 young people who have not competed.
For the most unfortunate football migrants, the dream trip to Europe can be a nightmare. It is a short way to end up as an illegal immigrant in a European city – without money or the opportunity to return home.
Silje Johannessen in the Norwegian player organization Niso has had several cases where she has helped African players in Norway.
- There are an incredible number of issues that arise in the way young players are recruited. The biggest problem is for those who do not succeed. Most of them return. With the expectations that are set for you, it is experienced as a defeat, says Johannessen.
A gold mine of talent
Ghana was formerly called the Gold Coast because of the huge gold deposits in the region. Today, football players are the country's gold. They too are a resource that is disappearing out of the country. This year's World Cup participation has made Ghanaian players hot items.
In order to get the transition market into more orderly forms, the international football association Fifa has introduced the approval of agents to drive the purchase and sale of players. In Ghana, there are currently three Fifa-approved agents.
Joseph Epton of Topsport Group in Ghana is not one of them. He, like many others, tries to make football a livelihood as a talent scout. In reality, the talent scouts often work in the same way as the agents, but they cannot be involved in the sale itself. Their business is not regulated by Fifa's rules.
- Neither I nor Topsport Group are involved in this to exploit the players or to destroy the game that we love so much. Our goal is in a selfless way to help facilitate the world football arena, says Joseph Epton.
He says he has to tell the boys on a daily basis that only the very best have a small chance of success.
Outside the Danish embassy in Accra, the Frankfurt Babies football team stands on a June day in 2006. They come from The Frankfurt Football Academy football school and wait to get a visa before they can travel to the Dana Cup in Denmark. Here children down to the age of eight are picked up.
- Those who apply get a week's training stay where they must convince that they deserve to start school. We have room for 25 players in each cohort, says Mumin Kadiri.
The teams from Kadiri's school have good results to show. They have, among other things, had several teams that have won their classes during the Norway Cup and Dana Cup.
- During tournaments such as the Norway Cup, we have the opportunity to give our players the international match training that helps to develop them into better football players, says Mumin Kadiri, who is currently the head coach at the school.
He does not conceal that the dream is that some of these guys will be able to live off being a football player sometime in the future.
- We give them training and experience. It is important that they are aware of what requirements are set if one day they want to try their hand in Europe, says Kadiri.
At the other end of the good right-legged itinerary we find Brann football club. In December last year, the Norwegian team wanted to bring three 17-year-old Gambians to Norway as students at a folk high school. Everything is arranged, but then the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration puts its foot down. They believe the main purpose of the stay is not teaching. The Gambians have their application for a residence permit rejected. They still came to Norway – on a tourist visa.
In spite of the 18-year limit for playing permission, Brann believes that he has secured an option on the players.
- It is up to us if we want them. We have an agreement with the players' clubs that when they turn 18, we have an option, says sports manager of the club, Per-Ove Ludvigsen.
Silje Johannessen in Niso is very skeptical of Brann's option agreement.
- No club can secure a player before he is 18 years old. It is not possible to avoid the regulations with private agreements, says the union leader.
Johannessen has the impression that it has been far easier to bring young African players to Norway than to some other European countries. In England, the enforcement of the regulations is far stricter. Therefore, English clubs have had cooperation agreements with Belgian clubs that have taken care of the players until they reach the age of 18. The practice has been met with massive criticism.
Ludvigsen says the intention of retrieving young African players is not primarily to make money on resale, but to bring good players to Brann.
- We always have a hope that both local players and foreign players will strike, but we do not bring in African players because they provide greater opportunities for resale. In that case, it will be a bonus, says Ludvigsen.
He points out that the players are being followed up in their home country and that they have been in dialogue with the parents throughout the process.
- We also do not put anything on pressure on them.
Relax rules in Norway
Johannessen points out that a young African who comes to Europe experiences the situation as unclear. There is a lot of money involved, and in the scenes, both clubs and agents operate.
A rule that Norwegian clubs can only have two players from outside the EU area on the court at the same time can in itself seem discriminatory. Johannessen has experienced cases where Norwegian clubs have used the EU rule as a means to terminate the contract with players who do not break through.
Football players' rights are contested. Few other workers give up their own freedom as much as a footballer. They sign multi-year contracts that bind them to the club.
- In football, terms such as investment and the purchase and sale of players are used. It is different than in the rest of working life. The club considers that they have the rights of the player. It is also special, says Johannessen.
It was hard not to catch the noise about 18 year old John Obi Mikel last year. He joined Lyn when he was 17 years old. The club found a loophole and brought the boy to Norway as a school pupil at the Norwegian Top Sports Gymnasium. At Lyn he got a youth contract.
Then the big game begins: On his 18th birthday, he signs a professional contract with Lyn. The following week he signs for Manchester United, while the Chelsea club is also in the picture. The player is under pressure from several sides. By his side is the agent John Shittu.
One year later, the money is on its way to Lyn's account. The club can collect between NOK 47 and 60 million on Michael's transfer to Chelsea.
The Mikel case has not scared the Lightning leadership. "Lightning wants to bring in more young Africans," said interrupting Lightning Director Morgan Andersen to Dagbladet. Michael's compatriot Chinedu "Edu" Obasi Ogbuke, who came to the club with Mikel, "can become a gold mine for us," said Andersen, who adds that this gold mine is Lyn's property.
Get through the needle eye
For most people it goes quieter than it did for Mikel. Some make happiness in Norway, others quickly disappear home to the country they came from or try their luck elsewhere.
In June 2006, Molde meets HamKam in a bottom settlement in the Norwegian top division. For one person, extra tension is attached to this fight. Senegalese Pape Paté Diouf has just been granted a temporary play permit. The other strikers are quarantined, and Diouf gets some unexpected play from the start. The 20-year-old delivers sparkling games and secures victory for Molde with two great goals.
Behind the story of Diouf also hides a more unknown and far less glamorous story. Along with Diouf, compatriot Ibrahima Ngom also came to Molde. Both got a place at Rauma Folk High School. But while Diouf has become a key player with five goals after five games, Ngom was released from the club in the early summer. Now he is in Seville, Spain. There he tries his luck in a 2nd division club.
- It was naturally tough for me not to get a contract, but that's the way it is. I will work hard in the hope of getting a contract somewhere else, says Ngom.
He has not given up hope of joining a Norwegian top club.
In Molde, Diouf sits high after praising criticism. He was recently granted a work permit.
- I am happy with the situation as it is now, but I remember back to school football in Senegal where only two or three from each litter of 150 players got a professional contract.
He also thinks of the comrade who still has the nomadic existence in southern Europe.
- It was hard for him when only one of us succeeded, but he can succeed elsewhere, says Diouf.
Both Senegalese have learned how important it is to have a good agent, but they are unwilling to share their experiences with middlemen.
The future is secret
Back at Ekebergsletta. On and off the track there is sports joy, laughter and excitement. Everyone knows the agents are here, but officially they are not present. Norway Cup is the showcase, and the agents follow the relevant objects.
Pape Mowba Didum Sow comes from the Diambars football academy from Senegal, supported by France and Inters player Patrick Vieira. Pape is also the namesake of the Molde striker who did so well in early summer. At the age of 14 he is already in the spotlight for European clubs. It is the trainer pulling the strings. Pape himself knows nothing about the opportunities he might be given.
- I would prefer to play in Barcelona or Real Madrid where Ronaldo and Ronaldinho are, but then I have to work well at school and respect other people. Only then can I do it, says the Senegalese.
He has hope in his eyes.
- Major clubs such as Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester United are chasing players down to the age of seven.
- Several new international rules reinforce developments. Requirements are set for self-production of players, which is why it is beneficial to tie the talents to them early.
- More and more clubs are setting up their own academies to connect children at an early stage.
- In the Norwegian Tipple League last year there were 105 foreign players from 34 nations. 19 of them were from Africa, 7 from Latin America.
By Jógvan H. Gardar, Accra in Ghana and Lars Kristian Solem, Oslo (email@example.com)