- LIVE TV
Many boys around the world dream of becoming professional footballers and in soccer-mad Cameroon, a career in the beautiful game is the ultimate goal in life.
Such is both the love of the sport and the power it has to transform lives in the country, parents are prepared to spend their live savings and send their children abroad in the hope they will become football stars.
It has led to a group of unscrupulous agents preying on young footballers, conning them and their families out of thousands and then leaving the boys stranded and destitute in foreign countries.
The deceitful practise is revealed in Channel 4 documentary The Unreported World this evening as presenter Ade Adepitan, a British wheelchair basketball player and TV presenter, meets the boys who have been left high and dry thanks to being conned.
One of them is a Cameroonian player, Rostang Jean Tey, 25, who shows Adepitan the tiny bedroom he shares in Paris with another African footballer.
He says that when he was 20, an agent promised him a contract in Europe. The agent took thousands of pounds from his family, took him abroad – and then disappeared.
Tey was too ashamed to go home and still clings to the hope he may become a professional footballer – even though he doesn’t have a visa that would allow a club to sign him.
He is lucky he does at least have a room to sleep in, as many of the other aspiring footballers end up on the streets after being ditched by agents.
The International Centre for Sports Security estimates that there could be 15,000 young men stranded in Europe after being trafficked in this way.
Former Cameroon World Cup star Emmanuel Moboang Kessack has set up a charity to help his destitute young compatriots in Paris.
He said: ‘Everyone has his story here. Some they don’t have anywhere to sleep. If I went back to Cameroon and spoke to the boys there and he said to them “Paris is freezing cold, you won’t have anywhere to live, there’s no food over here”, those guys would still come regardless, they would still take that chance, just because they want to live out their dream and become a professional footballer.’
Kessack tells Adepitan that a vast industry has grown using football to trick and traffic talented youngsters.
‘There are agents without any licence. They just go to the family, I can take you, if you give me 2,000, 5,000 dollar then your son will go to England, to Manchester… the boys go, arrive in Europe and nobody meets them.’
To prove his point, Kessack takes the Unreported World team to meet 19-year-old Abdel Kareem, a goalkeeper with one of Cameroon’s top clubs.
Last year Abdel’s agent told him he had a contract to play in Miami. Abdel’s family paid the agent $4,000 (£2,616) – their lifetime savings.
His whole family saw him off as he boarded his flight with his agent and several other players.
But after a few hours the flight made a scheduled stop in Ethiopia. The agent told the players he was going to buy some food and they should wait for him. And with that he disappeared, abandoning the players without tickets or passports.
Abdel ended up being thrown in a jail cell.
He recalls: ‘The police took me with them straight to the cell. They didn’t want any explanation.
‘They knew only I was from Cameroon. They treated me like a thief, a criminal.’
After two days in the airport he was sent back to Cameroon where he was upset and ashamed to return to his family who had sacrificed so much in the hope he would become a football star.
Adepitan said: ‘I could still see the pain in Abdel’s eyes. I just feel so bad for him. And what is just so amazing to think is that he’s like any other kid in the world, he started off with a dream and someone took advantage of that dream and ended up leaving him stranded in prison in the middle of nowhere. I mean that is just too high a price to pay. I just can’t believe it.’
Abdel’s story is far from unique. The family of Gilbert Etugay, once a striker with a top Cameroonian club, were also left penniless thanks to an unscrupulous agent.
He was taken to Qatar and his agent disappeared – with $10,000 (£6,516) of Etugay’s family savings.
His mother Katrene said the family had all worked hard to earn the money to send Etugay to Qatar as they wanted to support his footballing ambitions.
She said: ‘There were family contributions because all of us were working. All of us put our hands on deck and we contributed.’
Now she says they are trying to move on as there is nothing they can do to gain justice or get their money back.
Cameroon’s Football Association say under FIFA’s supervision they are rebuilding the football association to be stronger and more ethical.
But for families like Abdel’s and Etugay’s, it’s too little too late.
– Daily Mail