Young African footballers hoping to make their fortunes in top English clubs are being conned out of thousands of dollars by Nigerian fraudsters, according to a BBC investigation broadcast on Tuesday.
The undercover probe included a “sting” operation on a man claiming to be an agent for Premiership champions Manchester United, while another impersonated the chief talent scout for Chelsea to persuade victims to part with cash.
The young victims, often from poor families, are duped into sending money believing they are paying official registration fees for a trial with their favourite English Premier League clubs.
“As soon as your child comes over here in London, the club will sponsor their food, their accommodation, all the necessary things they need,” said a man calling himself Paul Jones, claiming to work for Manchester United.
“So after two years of the training, if the player performs well, he will join Manchester United,” he added in a telephone call cited by the BBC investigation.
“Jones” emailed fake registration forms complete with the club's official letterhead – but made the obvious mistake of asking victims to send them back to former United manager Sir Matt Busby, who stepped down in 1971 and died in 1994.
In a sting, a BBC undercover reporter posing as the father of a young Ghanaian player persuaded “Jones” to send a man to meet him in a hotel in Lagos, where he was secretly filmed.
After being caught red-handed, he was passed over to police, who found contact details for victims in his mobile phone – including the BBC man's number listed under “mugu,” a Nigerian word for someone being duped.
Another conman recorded by the BBC claimed to be Mike Emenalo, a former Nigerian player and Chelsea's chief talent scout, and offered a trial for a fee of 4,000 dollars (2,000 pounds).
John Fashanu, sports and tourism ambassador for Nigeria and a former England international, praised the BBC probe for revealing the scammers.
“They are making money off desperate young Nigerian, Ghanaian, South African, African, Third World country footballers who all want to live (like) professional footballers such as Thierry Henry or Nwankwo Kanu,” he said.
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