Exploring the fine line between opportunity and exploitation in the world of African youth soccer.
In his first book, former AP Islamabad bureau chief Abbot writes about Football Dreams, a program aimed at finding future soccer superstars in Africa. In 2007, Josep Colomer, a scout and youth director from the legendary FC Barcelona, undertook an extensive journey through seven African countries for the purpose of tapping into the continent’s rich soccer talent pool. Football Dreams would operate under the auspices of Qatar’s Aspire Academy, an institution geared toward improving that country’s soccer talent as the country approaches its hosting duties for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, sparing no expense along the way. Colomer and his associates identified a talented group of young 13-year-old African boys to bring to Qatar. The stated goal was to develop players who could achieve their dreams of playing at the highest level in Europe’s professional leagues. However, the academy encountered problems due to the fact that the goals were not entirely clear and the methods not transparent. For every player who found a modicum of success, many more fell by the wayside. Abbot focuses on three of these young men while telling the stories of several others. He investigates the nature of talent development and the mysteries of the Qatari motivations, and he shows how the players, many from profoundly disadvantaged backgrounds, were exposed to almost unimaginably opulent surroundings at Aspire even as they were pulled in multiple directions by their club coaches back in Ghana and Senegal, their families, and the desires of officials at Aspire. Abbot also explores the problems with identifying the true ages of players and reveals how Aspire refused to allow some of its players to explore their possibilities in Europe. A solid storyteller, the author ensures that readers are invested in the dreams, lives, successes, and heartbreaks of these young men.
A sobering look at the realities of the pursuit of big-time sporting opportunities.