In a hidden enclave off Accra’s industrial suburb of Spintex is a cluster of wooden shacks and brick structures around which young men mill up and down.
These youngsters – between the ages of 20 and 30 years – are aspiring football professionals dumped by a fraudster who promised them deals with clubs abroad.
The players are nationals of various African countries including Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana. They are victims of fraud!
Every African player I have met wants to play in Europe! That’s a given! At only 30, Black Stars Captain Asamaoah Gyan earns $250,000 a week. This is minus bonuses and several endorsement deals running into millions of dollars annually.
His success story and spilling wealth continue to be the inspiration for many young footballers and reasons why their parents would sell off entire possessions to get them to any of Europe’s top clubs.
And this must happen by any means despite the risks of getting duped.
My name is George Addo Jnr and in this edition of Hotline I navigate the hearts of crest fallen and dejected young footballers who have become victims of fake football agentry.
At the Spintex settlement is 26-year-old Alswell Emmanuel Iwu.
“The man came around. If you look at his appearance, you’d conclude that he’s an honest man. He looked very innocent. When I saw him I concluded that truly God had brought my helper to assist me,” Alswell said.
But little did he know that the man to help him secure a deal in Europe would only dump him in Ghanaian slum.
“He told me that he wanted to take me [abroad] for a trial. He said he had lots of contacts in Canada, Malasia and Australia. He came to see my poor father who had nothing. My father sold his parcel of land at 570,000 Naira.”
Alswell was not taken to Malaysia. He was put on a Ghana-bound bus and sent to a slum where other victims of similar schemes live. He has been living with the other budding players begging for alms to keep up. The expectations at home were high during his departure. It would be a big embarrassment for them to return.
Duped, dumped, dejected, heartbroken and now in a quandary about where to turn to next.
Admittedly the terrible encounter with a dubious agent last year has set the clock back on his promising career. Iwu is only just waking up from the shock that experience threw him in.
Since 2001, football agents have been licensed not by FIFA but by the national association in the country where they live. That association is then responsible for providing contact details, including a postal address, phone number and email address to FIFA, which publishes the details in an online directory.
For a significant number of agents, there are no phone and email contact details listed. But immediate past Ghana FA General Secretary Emanuel Gyimah is worried about how sophisticated the fake agents are becoming.
“Some of these people are now using agencies. They would write to us and attach a letter that they are into football management. We do our further checks by writing to the FA in the country these agents claim to be coming from. But the problem we have is that these fake agents deal directly with the clubs and sometimes with the players themselves,” Mr Emmauel Gyimah revealed.
The worrying thing is that many of these transactions happen on the blind side of the clubs and the FAs.
“Most of the time they lure these players outside even before the transactions are done. It’s not always right for the player to move outside before the deal is signed.”
Former skipper of the Black Stars and current coach of Dreams FC, Charles Akunnor, says parents are to blame, partly, for this state of affairs.
Apart from selling off valuables and surrendering life savings to fake agents, a lot of these parents have been found to also consult spiritualists in their vague quest to achieve this goal.
However, Charles Akunnnor believes players should not give up. He narrates a painful experience he went through.
“When I started there was an agent I spoke to who was supposed to take me to France. But all of a sudden this agent dumped me. He rather picked someone else, my roommate. One dawn we were both asleep. I saw my roommate pick up his bag. I asked him – my friend – where are you going and he told me the agent was travelling with him. I was bad hurt. But I did not say anything,” said.
Back at the Spintex enclave of disappointed football stars, another victim of fraud, 27-year-old Henry Godwin is also counting his loss. After starting out as a promising young player in Nigeria’s local league featuring for clubs like Stationery Stores, Lagos and NEPA of Ilorin, Godwin tells me his career would have blossomed if not for his ordeal in the hands of fake agents at different points in his life.
“After a football game in Nigeria a certain man approached me and told me he had deals in Holland and Thailand. He asked me if I had travelled before and I responded in the negative. And he sounded very serious. He came home to my father and demanded 500,000 Naira.
“My father borrowed money and sold property to get money. He just wanted me to succeed,” he said.
Also curious is how the agents make personal contact with the players who are assigned to clubs and have running contracts. Head Coach of Ghana second tier side Golden royals says some of his own players were snatched right under his nose.
Ghana FA ex-co member, and CEO of Division One side Tema Youth Wilfred OSEI Parma shares many of such experiences.
Fake agentry is real and many energetic, talented players are falling victim. They had big dreams but some wicked fraudsters are bent on snuffing out the dreams of these future stars.