Series exploring the everyday lives of children who go to work. Ousman Manneh looks at the lives of young African footballers.
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Every day of the week 200 million children around the world go out to work.
Children who work in circuses in Russia...
..on chocolate plantations in Africa...
..children who work in Bollywood...
..and children who want to be Africa's next big football star.
Welcome to the world of Children At Work.
Football is a worldwide passion.
It's my passion too.
I play for Handsworth United and train young British footballers in Birmingham.
I'm originally from the Gambia and this is my journey back into the world of African football.
On this continent, it's not just a game, it's a way of life.
And nowhere is the love of football stronger than in West Africa.
I'm Ousman Manneh, I'm in Ghana and this is the real African football.
I've travelled more than 3,000 miles to the most football-crazy country in Africa
to find out the whole story.
Ask an African kid who he wants to play for when he grows up and you can guess the answer.
Manchester? Ah, come on!
Arsenal, yeah? Good man!
Drogba makes it 3-0!
They want to be like their heroes, Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba
and Ghana's Asamoah Gyan.
But behind the dream lies the reality that football is now an international trade.
Move, come on!
There's a lot of fortune to be made out there in football, but it doesn't always work out.
The growing popularity of top-class African players in Europe
is unintentionally creating a market in young players.
Thousands have ended up homeless and abandoned on the streets of Europe.
I want to know why African football, which can change people's lives for the better, can also be a trap.
I'm really excited, I can't wait.
You expect to be tired, but I'm not.
Well, it is 33 degrees outside.
I'm on my way to the Polo Football Academy,
one of an estimated 500 unofficial football academies dotted all over the capital Accra,
even squeezed in amongst the market stalls, wherever there is space to kick a ball.
How are you doing, mate? You all right...?
'I'm met by one of the coaches.'
-My name's Paul.
-Paul. Nice to meet you, Paul. How's it going?
'The kids here take their football seriously, training for two hours, four days a week
'straight after school.
'Academies like this one have been criticised for building false hopes among the children'
with coaches and agents egging them on so they can make money out of them.
-Are there good footballers?
And they all want to become footballers when they grow up?
There's like one big full pitch and there's like three different teams playing on the same pitch.
The way they decide to... manage to cut their pitch down and create space for everyone.
Here, here, here!
This is where it all starts.
Every African footballer who's made it big time started on a pitch like this,
and then on to grass and football boots.
Wadada, like the rest of the coaches here, has no official qualifications,
but he is looking for the outstanding talent that will make him and his academy famous
and, let's be honest, rich.
-How do the players get here? Do you scout them?
-Most of them are scouted, most of them.
I give them a place to sleep so that I'll keep training them.
-OK, so you accommodate them and you feed them?
-And train them?
-So basically this is like an investment?
-You train players and then you sell them to make a profit?
I was amazed to hear Wadada takes boys into his own home.
Being here at the Polo Academy reminds me of my childhood in Gambia.
It's actually bringing back a lot of memories.
I used to play on grounds exactly like this...stones...sand...
It's very different from Handsworth in Birmingham where I live and regularly coach young footballers.
You pass the ball...
They also dream one day of becoming professional players,
but for me football isn't just about getting rich,
it's also about developing yourself as a person.
Well done! Well done! Come on...
Here at the Polo Academy it's a whole different story.
For two young players, 15-year-old Abel and 13-year-old Bryce,
who've been coming here for more than five years, the path ahead is clear.
-Do you think Polo is helping you become a footballer?
So what team would you want to play for when you go Premier, what team?
-You want to play for Chelsea?
-You want to be the new Essien for Chelsea?
-So how confident are you that you're going to make it? 100%
But how realistic are these boys' chances of fulfilling their ambition?
Polo's sponsor Paul and coach Ibrahim suggest success is simply down to the boys' commitment.
-Do you think the kids are going to make it?
What about you? What do you think of the boys? Are they good enough to make it?
They are good. They're supposed to come to training every day,
because really boys need training. If he's not training, he can't play football.
Do you think they have a chance to go to Europe and make it?
You said 100%. So what happens if some of these players don't make it in football?
Definitely they'll make it.
So far none of the youngsters training at Polo has made it to Europe,
though two of them have been sold to a Ghanaian First Division club.
But you can't blame the kids for having a dream.
I think these coaches are really, really misleading these kids.
You can't tell someone that you're going to become a footballer,
100% that you're going to become a footballer.
You can't tell someone that. It's not possible.
Giving kids such unrealistic ambitions can make them vulnerable to scouts and agents
who tell them they'll make it to Europe when they won't.
It's everyone's dream to play in a stadium like this one...
..Ghana's National Stadium, home to their legendary team the Black Stars.
I'm here to meet Abdul Yartey, a professional scout.
Way back in Africa, they play football for the love of the game.
Now it's no more.
We love the game, we have the passion of the game...
..but we know that football is the only job you can do now in the world
and then quickly you get rich.
So what motivates you as a scout? Is it money or are you trying to help the players,
the children in Ghana get into European football?
First and foremost, helping the boys,
and that is how I managed to come into scouting,
and then, secondly, the money.
So for kids that are out there in the streets,
what advice for them that want to go through the same process?
We have too many kids now in Africa so desperate to move.
You know, we are rushing to move to Europe to play.
What I can say is be patient.
Pass through the proper system, pass through the hands of good agents,
and go to good clubs.
That way, you'll not just be taken to Europe, somebody makes money out of you,
and then just abandons you somewhere.
Kids here work hard from a very young age,
so it's no wonder they and their families are looking for an escape from poverty.
Ghana is a very beautiful country on the Atlantic Ocean,
but a third of the population here live on less than a dollar a day. Football is a way out
and that's why some of these families are only too happy to send their kids far away.
To find out more, I'm going to Cheetah FC in Ghana's capital Accra.
It's run by the scout, Abdul Yartey.
It's the dream of every family to see their boy playing in Europe or outside Africa.
We do believe that aside of fame, the boy will be getting some money,
so I try to take care of the family as well.
Move, move, move!
Ernest is one of Yartey's promising footballers
whose dream of making it to Europe seemed to come true
when he was invited to trials in Turkey by two major clubs.
I was happy because my aim in life is to play in Europe.
So when I got the opportunity to go to Europe, I was happy.
And all my friends were also happy because it's not easy to get to Europe to play.
So I was happy and my family was happy for their boy is travelling to Europe to play.
Still only 16, Ernest flew off to Europe,
a new continent to him, on his own, entrusting himself to a complete stranger, his new agent.
So did you meet this agent before you went to Istanbul or did you actually meet him in...?
-I meet him in Istanbul.
-So you didn't know him?
So was you a bit worried, like, going to a different country and meeting someone that you...?
No! I was very scared the first time because I don't know anybody in Europe,
and I was scared that when I got to the airport I wouldn't find anybody.
But lucky for me when I get to the airport they were there holding my name,
then I go to them and they pick me up.
The trials went well, but he was too young to sign a contract,
so he was sent back home after a couple of months.
Luckily for him, he could return to his club and Yartey
who still supports his dream of becoming an international player.
But not everyone's so fortunate.
Every year, thousands of young Africans are abandoned on the streets of Europe
when unscrupulous agents let them down.
The next part of the story takes us to France.
I slept in the street and I slept in the underground.
My suitcase didn't have enough warm clothes, just my football kit
and a few provisions from my mum.
When he was just 16, Luc Rosso, who is also from West Africa,
found himself alone and homeless on the streets of Paris.
He was a talented young footballer who'd been spotted by a scout at his local club.
When I was a school, there was a sports teacher who used to write to my mother all the time,
saying, "I can see your son as a footballer. He has all the right qualities and should be encouraged."
Luc's dreams of becoming a professional footballer seemed to come true
when one day a Nigerian agent approached him and said he could get him into a club in Europe.
I was very happy, you know, in my own mind when they said I was going to play at a good level
and live the dream I'd had for so long, that I would train in an academy,
and play at the very top, play on TV. That was just my dream.
I had to play, that's it.
But the dream began to turn sour.
The agent was soon looking for money from Luc's family.
He came and told my mother that he didn't have enough money to pay for the administrative costs,
and that it was up to the family to pay for it.
So my mother gave him the money.
The agent took Luc to Paris, telling him he'd earned a trial with a major Portuguese club
and they'd be travelling there by train.
He took us to the Gare du Nord and told us we'd get the train to Lisbon. He told me to wait there.
He was going to get a couple of other boys.
That was the last I saw of him.
I didn't know what to do.
Luc was left homeless and penniless.
His story isn't unique.
Since 2005, a support group set up by a former Cameroonian player
has helped more than 1,800 African youngsters like Luc in the Paris region alone.
Some families pay about 5,000 euros,
and when the children come to Europe
they are abandoned at the end of the visa.
You know, when the visa expires they are in an illegal situation,
so they are going to the black market, sometimes they play in amateur leagues,
but generally they are abandoned on the streets.
And these children they are very far from the family. It is not a good situation for children,
because children need education, they need advice...in their life,
but when they stay on the street, it is a very, very bad situation.
It is a business, it is a real business.
And the product
goes from A to B and in between there are a lot of things that we cannot control.
Luc eventually ended up in a children's home
when the authorities said he would never play football in France.
I was told that I should change.
They said that I should change my dream.
Frankly, that was like killing me, like stabbing my heart with a knife...
because, in my head, they were telling me I couldn't play football.
They told me I should learn a trade instead.
Luckily for him, Diamil Faye has now offered him a place on the team he runs back in Africa,
so, aged 18, he's getting ready to start his new life in another country.
It's a new beginning for me.
After all I've been through and suffered, now I feel as though this is a new life I'm going to start.
And I'm proud of that.
There are over 30 African players currently playing in the Premier League,
and about 14 of them are from Ghana.
We have big names like Michael Essien, Didier Drogba, Saloman Kalou,
which are pretty big names in the Premier League.
But it's sad to think that for the very few who make it,
so many other youngsters are exploited and abandoned to their own destiny.
Back here in Ghana, there's no escape from football
which is great news for me, being a coach and a keen player.
As you can tell, it's busy... even on a Sunday.
My new friend and translator Sulley takes me around the local shops in search of a football.
-You know a good football?
-I know a good football!
-Should we get this one?
-Yeah, I think we should.
If you can lay your hands on a football, the game's on.
Kids here love football and dream of becoming successful players.
It's easy to see how they can fall into the hands of scouts and agents
who exploit them and give them false hopes.
Life's tough here in Ghana, even though by African standards it's a relatively wealthy country,
with many families living on 70p or less a day.
A world away from the unofficial academies that have sprung up all over Ghana,
I'm on my way to one of the country's top football academies
to see how they aim to protect boys from exploitation and failure.
Here, at the Right To Dream Academy,
about an hour from Ghana's capital Accra,
50 boys out of thousands of hopefuls each year are able to attend full time
and at no cost to their families.
How are you doing, Colin? Nice to meet you, mate.
How are you doing, Eric? You all right?
As I arrive, I'm met by 12-year-old Colin and 14-year-old Eric.
How is it living here? Do you consider yourselves lucky to be part of this or...?
Yeah, we feel very lucky because there's a lot of people in Ghana our age who wants to be here,
but it's us who have been chosen to be here so it's very important to be here.
Where are we going now?
'The academy isn't just looking for footballers,
'but also for tomorrow's leaders, and Eric has recently become the academic captain.'
So how important is it for you to be the captain of the academy?
I would say it's one of the most important things I've ever achieved in my life...
because I've been dreaming of becoming a captain.
I've been looking at some of the role models like Obama and other stuff...
they are always outstanding people that they can be a leader.
Eric and Colin are promising young footballers,
and the academy has had many success stories in placing talented boys with major football clubs.
Despite this, here, they are encouraged to keep an open mind on their career ambitions.
Where would you like to go from here? Would you like to be a professional footballer in Ghana?
What is your dream?
-My dream is to play in the Premier League.
-The Premier League. What team do you want to play for?
-Hopefully, Manchester City.
-I would play for Arsenal.
-What about you? What's your dream?
-My dream is to further my education in the United States.
-Yeah, for now.
Wow! Any subject that you want to do?
-I want to get involved in science because I aim to become a surgeon.
Movement again, good movement.
During training I caught up with one of their coaches,
former successful international player and Ghana captain CK Akunnor.
Let's go, last attack.
One of the things that attracted me was that it wasn't just about football.
-They were giving the kids education as well.
And so I said, "I would love to be part of this."
This is, like, several times. Last week was the same. Come on, get it right!
When you was a youth, when you was growing up to become a footballer in the national team,
how was your training compared to the training now?
-Was there much difference?
-Yeah, big difference. There wasn't any pitches like that.
I started with barefoot in my area,
and then when I go into professional football, it wasn't what I would call professional,
I went into youth under-20s and that was when I started wearing football boots.
Ivan, get the ball away! Get the ball away!
'These boys are fortunate,'
very fortunate, and I believe that it will it will yield into good results at the end of the day.
What are you doing?
What are you doing? This ball was meant for you!
Eric, get back.
British coach Gareth Henderby who's been here since the place opened 12 years ago
explained that here, unlike other unlicensed academies, football isn't the be-all and end-all.
Every player has a chance here to make it.
Some will progress on, some will not. It's normal in life.
Some will go to a higher level than others,
some will go into Europe, some may stay and play in the Ghana Premier League...
and then some may go on to education, so every player's got the opportunity
to go far if they apply themselves in the right manner and they work as hard as they possibly can.
Most boys come from underprivileged homes.
Teacher Harry Adekpui is in charge of their welfare.
Well, the whole idea is to try to identify the highest potentiality of each of those boys,
so in doing that you need to ensure that you have the suitable environment for them to grow up.
-What exactly do you mean by that?
-Some of them come from places where they don't really have fathers,
and even if they have fathers, they don't really care for them,
so they don't really eat well,
they don't come from an environment where they get proper guidance and so forth,
and so they don't really have a definition of the word "care",
and so some of them, when you ask them, it's time to go home...
..go back to the families, they don't want to go.
-I see these places.
I think it's brilliant. It's inspiring.
They've gone through a lot of hard work to build this,
and I wish loads of different countries
had this opportunity for other kids as well.
I just hope they know how lucky they are, to be honest, to have this opportunity.
THEY SING A HYMN IN THEIR OWN LANGUAGE
The next morning I had the chance to join the boys on a typical school day.
It's 6am and it's their first session - morning devotion.
We are from different parts of Ghana and people belong to different tribes and they speak different languages,
but here they are trying to link us together so that we all speak English,
and others are Muslim, others are Christian, so they want us to achieve the same thing.
At 6.30 after morning devotion, they are all off to the first training session of the day.
As a regular player and a qualified coach, I'm well used to intensive training.
Or so I thought!
My fitness level is rubbish!
I thought I was quite fit, actually...
Maybe it's the boots. Have you...?
No, come on...
Blame it on the boots!
Actually, it's really, really hard because I'm nowhere near their standards, their level...
they're really, really good footballers. As you can see, I'm sweating like an animal!
But I really, really enjoyed it and I don't want to sit out. I want to just get stuck in,
see how far I can go.
I asked Gareth how the boys coped with such intensive training.
Everything's about balance in training.
We have times when it's intense, we have times when we're doing technical training,
sometimes it's more game-understanding tactical training,
some days it's just small-sided games which is the fun element in it,
and then we have our matches as well each week for the players.
We've got to realise that they're still kids...
and we want them to grow up here but also make mistakes, have fun,
have a normal life like any other kid would.
They're in such a tough and tight schedule within our football programme and our school programme
that, if you're not careful, it's easy to forget that they are kids sometimes.
As for myself, I find the day's schedule quite gruelling.
After the 6.00 start, we've had the morning training,
then lessons from midmorning till mid-afternoon,
then it was back on the pitch for another hour and half of intensive training.
Eric and Colin seem to take this intensive routine in their stride... much better than me!
Only on this side.
-So, boys, it's been a really hectic day today, hasn't it?
-Is it usually like this every day? Is this your daily routine?
-Yeah, the same every day.
-So...are you tired?
-Two training sessions in a day. It's not easy, is it?
-Yeah, but we're used to it.
-You're used to it now?
-What about you?
-Yeah, used to it, the same.
Yeah, I've got to say you're really fit. Really fit lads.
There's still time for a little more football before bed.
Ghana are playing and the excitement is mounting.
I love it here. It's just the adrenaline is pumping, everyone is getting in the mood.
I've got my Ghana scarf on. It's really, really nice. I feel like I live in Ghana.
I feel like Ghana's my country.
The long day has a happy ending. Ghana have won the match.
As I cheer with the boys, I feel sad my time in Ghana is coming to an end.
It's been an extraordinary journey into the world of African football.
I've learned so much about the pressures that lead to thousands of African youngsters being exploited.
So many people's interests come before young people's dreams.
The overwhelming majority of kids training at unofficial academies
will never make it as international footballers,
yet they are encouraged to believe they will.
Prospects for the few kids that make it to the elite academies are brilliant,
and not just in football, but they're only a tiny minority.
Overall, my hope is that one day soon,
kids in Africa will have better chances of a successful career without having to leave for Europe.
I think it would be wonderful if the young footballers could lead the way to a fairer and wealthier continent.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Two hundred million children around the world go to work every day. This series explores their everyday lives.
In the first programme, Ousman Manneh looks at the lives of young African footballers and the financial interests that lead to many of them being exploited.
Nineteen-year-old Ousman is originally from Gambia, but now lives in Birmingham, where he regularly plays for Handsworth United FC and trains young British footballers. He travels to Ghana in West Africa to visit some of the football academies where youngsters train in the hope one day of making a successful career in Europe. He discovers how thousands of them fall into the hands of unscrupulous trainers, scouts and agents who exploit their dream of becoming international footballers and take them to Europe, only to abandon them once they have made money out of them.
Luc Rosso, an 18-year-old footballer, explains what happens when things go wrong. Aged 16, Luc was taken to France by a Nigerian agent who'd promised him trials with a Portuguese club. Instead, after taking all the family money, the agent dumped Luc as soon as they arrived in Paris. Luc was helped by Culture Foot Solidaire, a support group set up by Jean-Claude Mbvoumin, a former Cameroonian player, who explains he has helped over 1,800 youngsters in the Paris region alone.
Finally, Ousman visits the Right to Dream Academy, one of Ghana's elite football academies, where 50 boys are educated and trained full time at no cost to their families. Here he meets two boys who, despite being very talented footballers, are encouraged to keep their career ambitions open and not just focus on football.