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Exclusive: Erkut Sogut on African football's trafficking crisis - and how a Chelsea deal sparked things

It has been common knowledge for years that the African continent is flooded with hugely talented football players. But for every player making it big, there are countless others who end up getting lost in system.

The “system" in this case being more or less unscrupulous people acting as so called football agents, luring hopeful African kids away from homes and families with tales of streets paved with gold.

“Each year, 15,000 to 20,000 African kids fall victim to human traffickers posing as football agents, and most end up losing their way in Europe," says Erkut Sogut. The German-born Turkish agent, author and all-round businessman joined on a Zoom call from his adopted home in Orange County, California. Here, he is intent on shining a light on the human trafficking flourishing in African football.

During both his research and travels he's encountered some appalling examples of how kids from Africa are being taken advantage of.

“One ended up as a sex slave in London, forced to work off his “debt" to the people responsible for bringing him to Europe,, says the agent famous for once brokering a fantastic deal for Mesut Özil at Arsenal. According to Sogut the problem only gets bigger each year, and no one wishes to actively claim any responsibility.

“Figuratively speaking, FIFA says responsibility belongs to UEFA. UEFA say it is the local governments, who says the embassies are at fault, while they claim it belongs with FIFA. It only goes round and round and meanwhile, thousands of kids embark on often very dangerous trips to Europe to play football for clubs who have never heard of them," Sogut sighs as the problem only increases every year.

He once wrote a book called “How to become a football agent", but clearly a lot a shady people operate as agents without having read this book. Seeing how a super-agent like Mino Raiola apparently bagged a fee of £58m for offloading Erling Haaland off to Manchester City makes people dream.

Dreaming big is also the reason a lot of young footballers from Africa are seeking contracts in Europe and particularly in Ghana, there is an actual “Ground Zero" for when these dreams really exploded.

“A guy in Accra told me that, when Michael Essien signed a contract with Chelsea FC for a weekly fee of £70,000, it changed Ghana overnight and not only football in Ghana," Sogut explains.

“Suddenly every footballer wanted to get shipped off to Europe and every young kid wanted to become a footballer. Academies started popping up all over the country, everyone wanted to make millions, just because Michael Essien succeeded. This again led to so called street academies, which wasn't really football academies at all, run by people selling the dream to kids," Sogut continues.

The effect of this is what a well-known agent like Erkut Sogut still sees today as he gets flooded with requests from players wanting a fully loaded back account.

“Last year, in Nairobi, Kenya, a kid drove four hours on the bus to meet me. He showed me an invitation from Werder Bremen for him to join the club. My initial thought was, he must be a talented player. Then I started wondering, the Werder Bremen-logo on the letter seemed a little off, so I asked people from Werder Bremen about this kid. Nobody had ever heard of him."

“He wasn't going nowhere, but he paid 3000 dollars to an 'agent' to set up this up. That is a lot of money for an African kid and the whole village chipped in for him to be able to pay these people, it is ridiculous," tells Sogut, who is adamant the solution is education.

“I am currently teaching a lawyer in Lagos, Nigeria, how to become an agent. When finished, he can then educate people on the ground. Families, players, club, they all need to know, that becoming a professional footballer is a dream only coming true for the extremely few."

Only then, along with some governing body claiming responsibility, says Sogut, is it possible to stop the streets of places like Brussels, Paris and London getting flooded with hopeful young Africans with shattered dreams of making it big.

See also: Exclusive: Erkut Sogut talks Arsenal, Ozil & a movie deal for his book

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