The soc­cer slave trade

They’re young, tal­ented and dream of one thing – be­com­ing a football star like their idols. Sadly, they’re also the tar­gets of agents who de­mand huge fees to take them to Europe from Africa for tri­als – then dump them. Nick Hard­ing re­ports on the char­ity

Friday - - Society -

Four years ago Luc Rosso was 16 and liv­ing in Cameroon. The promis­ing young foot­baller at­tended a lo­cal football acad­emy and had dreams of be­com­ing a fa­mous player like Aurélien Ched­jou, one of his coun­try’s most cel­e­brated ath­letes, who re­cently signed up to play for Galatasaray in Is­tan­bul. So when Luc was ap­proached by a Nige­rian scout who promised him a trial in Europe, he thought his dreams were about to come true.

“The agent had seen me play and knew my dream was to be at the very top,’’ says Luc. “He said I could play at a good level.” But there was a cost: The man wanted £6,500 (Dh37,134) to fund Luc’s trip over­seas for some football tri­als at top clubs.

“The agent told my mother that if she could pay the amount I could get a deal. So she bor­rowed money from var­i­ous peo­ple and gave it to the agent,” says Luc. She hoped that once Luc be­gan play­ing for a big club, the money he earned would help her take care of her four other chil­dren and im­prove their life.

Ev­ery­thing ap­peared to be go­ing well and a few days later, Luc was taken to Paris where he was told he would have a trial with a Por­tuguese club. “The agent took me to the Garde du Norde sta­tion and told me that we would get a train from there to the trial venue. He told me to wait on the plat­form while he got to­gether a few other boys. That was the last I saw of him,’’ says Luc. Af­ter wait­ing on the plat­form for more than eight hours he re­alised he had been aban­doned.

The teenager, who had never been over­seas be­fore, was scared and didn’t know what to do or who to ap­proach for help. “I slept on the streets and in the un­der­ground,’’ he says. All he had was his suit­case, which had his football kit and a few pro­vi­sions like some dried fruits and nuts that his mother had packed. He had given all the money he had to the agent. Luc was an­other vic­tim of a con that has fooled thou­sands of poor young African foot­ballers. The ‘agent’ was ob­vi­ously bo­gus. There was no trial. To­day Luc doesn’t have enough money to re­turn home and his mother owes thou­sands of pounds to loan sharks who are con­stantly at her door. The fam­ily has been re­duced to grow­ing cocoa plants around their home to make ends meet.

Af­ter spend­ing months home­less and on the streets, Luc was spot­ted by vol­un­teers of a char­ity called Foot Sol­idaire, who helped him find free ac­com­mo­da­tion. They also pro­vided

lucky to have been saved by Foot Sol­idaire

Fake agent, fake try­out

Luc Russo was

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