In his outstanding work, “You have to try your luck: male Ghanaian youth and the uncertainty of football migration”, James Esson’s 2011 doctoral research leads him to interview many Ghanaian youth footballers in Accra. One story about the social media savvy Godwin and his desire to play abroad stands out as the modern version of so many before:
“It transpired that Godwin had not met the scout on a football pitch in Accra, rather he had met him online in an Internet café. He had uploaded a CV detailing his football biography and a video (recorded using his mobile phone) displaying his skills to a football recruitment website… After exchanging a handful of emails, the agent offered Godwin a contract with a professional Chinese football team worth $400,000 per season for three years, subject to Godwin obtaining a visa and paying a finders fee so the agent could ratify the deal.” (p. 9)
Godwin figured out the offer was fraudulent before he invested too much personal income or left the country, but many before him weren’t so fortunate. Nevertheless, he pushed on in his attempts to play abroad. In response to questions about why so many players go down a path littered with frauds, Esson characterized the answer of the players with a concise statement: “You have to try your luck” (p. 11).
Indeed, for many years, the chances of making it big as an African footballer in Europe resembled that of trying to win a lottery jackpot. While agents are stereotypically made out to be the villains in these stories, there are plenty of club managers and administrators who failed in their duties to accomodate signings to the new and unfamiliar cultures they encountered. Even as African transfers to Europe increased in the 1990’s and 2000’s, players had little in the way of support systems.
Esson mentions a Ghanaian-based youth academy, Right to Dream, that was expanding and creating a youth development blueprint at the time. Right to Dream and its founder, Tom Vernon, have made headlines for an emphasis on developing footballing role models who contribute off the field as much as on it. However, the expansion of Vernon’s business interests to acquire Danish club FC Nordsjaelland in 2015 has taken Right to Dream’s mission to the next level. It gives graduates a direct line to the much-craved exposure of European football.
Mohammed Kudus joined Nordsjaelland from Right to Dream as a 17-year-old in January 2018. After an impressive spell with 11 goals in 25 matches, Ajax paid 9 million Euros for Kudus this past week. This makes Kudus the first Right to Dream graduate to start his European adventure at Nordsjaelland and move on to a big name club. This is a massive moment, and you can tell by the Ghanaian football world’s reaction. The successful development of Mohammed Kudus is the result of a pathway where all parties benefit from each other’s success.
The story of Mohammed Kudus and Right to Dream represents a new era for Ghanaian footballers trying to move to Europe. With a youth system that develops on and off the field, it gives players the maximum opportunity to focus on determining their own destiny. African youth development will continue to positively evolve, but more invested European ownership will further contribute to players making it on talent rather than by trying their luck.