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Exodus of African sports talents and the returns

Updated on February 21, 2013

Gone are those days when a dad would stomp out of his lounge holding a whip to fetch his little boy from a grassless backyard where tens of kids had gathered after school hours to kick plastic balls barefoot. Such pastime used to be regarded as destroyer of a child’s destiny, but it is no more.

Parents now guide their sons to football academies, currently springing up across Africa, and enroll them to learn how to play the world’s most popular sport, unmindful of whether or not the boys are talented.

They are hoping to produce the next George Weah, Samuel Eto’o or Didier Drogba, not necessarily because of the fame these African stars have achieved, but for the colossal wealth they have shipped home from Europe and beyond. Sportspeople, especially footballers, are idols in countless African homes. Although most of them are without high school certificates, they earn per week what university professors and medical doctors would not earn in 10 years. What is the need staying at school?

Even before completing their preliminary training, many aspiring African footballers are lured away to Europe. Some insouciantly abandon regular schooling and take a dive into an uncertain future.

“My son called me one night and said ‘Dad, I don’t want to go to school anymore. I want to play football fulltime,” Alain Sessegnon, father to Sunderland’s midfielder Stephane Sessegnon, told News Biz Africa in an interview.

“The decision was hard for me to make because he was only 14 then and I was scared whether he’d succeed as a footballer. I wanted him to study accounting. But today we are proud of him. He’s famous and rich. It’s final goodbye to poverty for the entire family,” he added.

Domestic leagues also suffer the consequences of this talent drain to the West. Most African soccer fans regularly shun their weekend home fixtures and tune to watch the English, Spanish and Italian leagues, where they expect to see their compatriots in action.

However, a handful of the communities where these professionals hail from keep reaping some tangible benefits to make the exodus seem as a blessing in disguise.

Togo international Emmanuel Adebayor, who quit abject street life for football, now invests in water projects and road infrastructure for locals, while four-time African Footballer of the Year Samuel Eto’o recently launched a mobile telephone company in Cameroon to create hundreds of jobs in a country with an alarming rate of unemployment.

Ivorian-born Didier Drogba, who abandoned a course in medical sciences way back in France to adventure in football, is now erecting an ultra-modern £3 million hospital in Abidjan, meant for the less privileged.

But how dicey it is for a child to adamantly assume his success in life lies only in sport?

Julien Chevalier, director of Mimosifcom academy in Ivory Coast, where the likes of Chelsea’s Salomon Kalou and Manchester City’s Toure brothers graduated from, probably has the answer.

“Out of 1,000 inmates we train, only perhaps 15 or 20 eventually succeed as footballers.”

Didier Drogba at his 3 million pound hospital site in Abidjan, Ivory Coast

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