In 2007, Qatar, in an effort to build up its national soccer team, began a project to identify the most talented young soccer players in Africa and bring them to Doha for training. The effort was led by a Barcelona-based talent scout whose claim to fame was that he had discovered perhaps the most famous soccer player of the current era, the Argentine forward Lionel Messi. Abbot’s book follows the fortunes of three young African players who participated in the Qatari program and for whom soccer represented a ticket out of poverty. In the end, none of the three made it: it turns out that it is hard to predict who will be the next Messi, particularly in countries where it is easy to forge a birth certificate and convince a scout that a 12-year-old is actually 16. African recruits have become stars on many of the world’s top professional teams, but a far more common trajectory for them involves shameless exploitation by a motley assortment of fixers, coaches, scouts, and other intermediaries who all hope to profit off the players. Abbot’s book is an excellent introduction to this shady world.
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