A New Slave Trade? Europe's Thirst for Young African Footballers

By Christoph Biermann and Maik Grossekathöfer

Part 6: 'For African Children, Football Is Everything'

Sitting at a laptop in his office in the Blue House in Bamako, Jean-Marc Guillou fumes when asked about his critics. "I am doing more for African football than FIFA. It's good that an organization like Foot Solidaire exists, but why do such dramas happen in the first place? Because FIFA doesn't give African children a chance." His voice almost cracks, he is so angry. "For African children, football is everything. If I didn't exist, Arthur Boka might be selling shoes by the side of the road," he says, referring to the Ivorian defender who plays for VfB Stuttgart.

It has become more difficult in recent years to export African players to Europe, with the embassies of many Western European countries no longer issuing visas as easily as they did in the past. Nevertheless, Guillou is expanding his operation. He is building an extension to the Bamako academy that will include another six rooms, with a total of 24 beds, as well as a restaurant with a rooftop terrace.

In two or three years, when the first Mali graduates are of age, Guillou plans to invest in another club in Europe. A second-division club in France would be good, he says. "Preferably in Île-de-France," he adds, because the region surrounding Paris is so centrally located, and therefore accessible for agents and scouts. He feels confident that he will find a club, because, as he says: "I don't show up with money like some Russian billionaire. I come with good players that will cost the club nothing and are worth a lot of money."

He opens a file on his computer. It is a forecast for the future development of his business. "I assume that of all the students in all the academies who were born in 1992, five will make it to Europe. Of those born in 1993: three. In 1994: four. In 1995: 29."

Imitating Their Role Models

Amadou Kéita was born in 1995. He is just taking out the garbage from his room, which he shares with three other students. This month, it's Amadou's turn to make sure that the room is clean and that all of his roommates hand over their mobile phones to the janitor on time. Calls are only allowed between 6 and 9 p.m. The purpose of the task is to teach the residents to take responsibility and lead the others like a team captain.

"I don't care if Monsieur Guillou makes money with me," says Kéita. "He is a friend, a second father. I want him to make me as famous as (Argentine footballer) Lionel Messi." Then he turns around quickly and walks over to his fellow students.

They are sitting in front of the television, their hair still wet from showering, watching the Champions League. Whenever they see a footballer playing well, the children jump up, cheer and imitate the movements of their role models.

The boys are wearing jerseys with bright colors that stand out in the dim light, for clubs like Real Madrid, AS Roma and Manchester United.

Amadou has his red-and-black striped AC Milan jersey on again. It's as if he hoped that by wearing the clothing of his hero, he could somehow acquire his strengths. As if this were a way to become a new person. A professional footballer in Europe.

Maybe.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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Graphic: Origin of foreign players in Europe's top clubs



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