YAOUNDE, CAMEROON —
Many African youngsters dream of becoming wealthy football stars but the first-ever global employment report by the world player’s union, FIFpro, may serve as a reality check.
Fans of the Aigle football club of Menoua, a team in Cameroon's second division, cheer their players during a training session. Among the strikers is 31-year-old Emmanuel Koska.
Koska recently returned from Thailand. He sold his father’s land to pay for the trip but says that once he arrived, his agent disappeared and the team he went to play for did not retain him.
Now back home, Koska struggles to earn enough to meet his needs and those of his family.
"Playing at the local level here in Cameroon, there is nothing much. Normally on Monday after a day of play, players can earn like 750 (Central African) francs (about $1) per training session and it is not every day,” Koska says.
It’s a common story, says Cameroonian football analyst Kizito Eloundou.
He says Cameroonian players who seek greener pastures abroad have a lot of challenges competing with players who have a known track record. He says overseas teams consider the players they know first and he says many of the Cameroonian players wind up working as night watch men or doing odd jobs for little pay.
He says when they return home, their performance on the field has suffered and coaches lose interest.
The International Federation of Professional Footballers has released some sobering statistics in its first-ever global employment analysis. The findings highlight precarious working conditions and contract violations like delayed pay that can make players vulnerable to injury and match-fixing.
Salaries are also lower than the public may think, according to FIFpro. Nearly three quarters of players in Africa earn less than $1,000 per month, according to the report.
Joseph Embola, a 24-year-old player for Tonnerre Kalara, a division one club, says money says he tries not to think about the money part.
"When we are playing football, we are not thinking about the money. We are thinking more about the future because if we think about money, it is going to discourage us. Can you imagine that we go for nine months without being paid? They owe us arrears for nine months. That is very discouraging," Kalara says.
First division coach Kazimir Makeh says just a handful of Cameroon's 100 professional teams actually pay their players. The rest have to rely on their families and handouts from fans.
He says the consequence is that Cameroonian football is being deprived of youths who should have made it interesting, competitive and lively. He says once a young man shows signs of becoming a good player, he is recruited abroad with promises that his needs, and the needs of his family, will be met. He says players prefer to go on the adventure.
In a bid to retain more talent, the Cameroon Football Association is looking for company sponsorship so that it can add to the five million CFA francs, about $9,000, that it gives to clubs each year.