Hanging onto a footballing dream

Hanging onto a footballing dream

Moving from muddy pitches back home to play under the bright lights of La Liga, Serie A, Premier League or Champions League is a dream shared by many aspiring footballers around the world. In Nigeria, it is the wish of many young players who would like to follow in the footsteps of the “golden generation” that shook the world of football by winning the gold medal at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta or play along the likes of John Obi Mikel, Alex Iwobi and Victor Moses.

But wherever there are ambitions and aspirations there are also ruthless individuals ready to exploit those young dreamers. They claim to be football agents with contacts in Europe, approach kids who dream to play in Europe and ask for money from them or their family with the promise that they will arrange the documents needed and a trial at a professional club. However, when the youngster reaches the destination, if they do, the trial does not happen and, in the worst case scenario, the player is abandoned.

In other cases, the scammer keeps the money and disappears even before the journey to Europe takes place, as Daniel Saleh Iko, a 19-year-old Nigerian footballer, learnt the hard way. He has courageously decided to share his unfortunate experience with Mission 89 in this interview.

I come from Kogi State, a central region of Nigeria, and have always wanted to become a footballer. I’ve played for local professional teams and I’m still playing and training hard as I don’t want to give up on my dream.

Not long ago, a man who claimed to have contacts in European football approached me saying that I was too good for the league where I’m playing. He added I should consider moving to a more ambitious stage. He said if I or my family had managed to put together about $ 3,500 for the expenses needed, he would provide me with some good opportunities to play professionally in Europe”

Fortunately for Daniel, soon afterwards he met trafficking survivor & Mission 89 Ambassador Matthew Edafe, who gave him some advise.  

Talking to Matthew helped me open my eyes. First of all he gave me a lot of encouragement and support. Then he made me understand the reality of that offer. He explained to me that when a real agent sees talent in a player, and if he really believes in that talent, he will be ready to invest rather than asking for money in advance because he’s confident that one day, when a proper contract is signed, he will get his own commission from the club. On the contrary, somebody bragging to have contacts at high level  in professional football and wanting to be given money even before a contract or a trial in Europe was not to be trusted.

In this instance, Daniel managed to keep the fake agent at bay but he had been less successful on another occasion two years earlier.

I was only 17 and all I wanted to do was to have a chance, so when a man promised he’d give me a chance to play for Newcastle United, I wanted to grab it. He was also asking for $ 2,000. My family managed to borrow that amount by asking several people if they could lend us some money. The idea was that if I had been able to play in Europe I definitely would have been able to pay back the loan and also support my sister who is still studying… But unfortunately it was a scam, and, while we lost all that money, I never had the opportunity to move to England.

It was a hard blow, both financially and psychologically.

It was such a bad moment for me and my family as it made our financial situation even shakier than it already was. I was so desperate I even attempted to take my own life and even now, when I think about it, I get frustrated and end up crying. But I don’t want to give up and I am going to train as hard as I can to make it to the top.

Thanks to Daniel, for speaking up. Painful as sharing this experience may have been, we are hopeful that through this, other young aspiring footballers will learn and make informed decisions about their career in and out of football.

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