YAOUNDE, Sept. 12 (Xinhua) — On an uneven dirt and dusty pitch in Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde, a group of youngsters dressed in different-color jerseys, chase one another in pursuit of the ball, kicking and heading with deft touches and neat flicks as vociferous spectators roar on.
Among them, is Hamza Abdouraman, a towering center front, who talks openly about his childhood dream “to become a famous professional player”.
Although he wants to make his name in Cameroon, Europe remains the ultimate goal and Manchester United the dream club.
The 26-year-old is among countless Cameroonian boys whose dreams of fame and wealth fuel an obsession, one that carries up entire families as well as an industry of coaches and managers hungry to find the next big name.
Abdouraman’s team, Money Football Club was playing in the final of a holiday football tournament when Xinhua team of reporters arrived the pitch. There was a mouth-watering prize for the top players in the tournament — an offer to play in a professional club where they can impress scouts and maybe take another step to a professional career, said Mouhamadou Aminou, organizer of the tournament.
Young players who play in such holiday football tournaments are the financial lifeblood of Cameroonian clubs and the production line that grooms them into saleable assets starts at a tender age.
In Cameroon, football is regarded as a religion and individuals like Aminou organize football tournaments when children are on holiday annually in villages, towns and cities to keep them entertained and busy.
“We are in a neighborhood that has nearly 15,000 souls, we cannot stay without practicing sport and during holiday, it is only normal that we keep young people busy. Two, three or four players (from this holiday tournament) have travelled abroad and have been recruited thanks to this championship. Some are in Turkey and others are in France,” said Aminou who has been organizing the tournament for four years now.
The youngsters are so passionate about the game, they sometimes play barefoot and the cheap form of play spread, transcending ethnic, political and sectarian lines that occasionally divide Cameroon.
Some of the boys, mainly from poor homes, have dreams to make it big in life through football and help their families out of poverty.
“It pleases me to play in holiday championships especially in front of many spectators like these in my quarter. It (holiday tournament) helps one to mature so that when you join a professional club you will be able to perform well, just like you perform in the holiday championships,” 29-year-old Noobissie Gautier who captains Mokolo FC, the club that is competing in the final against Abdouraman’s team told Xinhua as he was to resume for a goalless second half of the game.
“We start playing here (small pitches in the quarter) before going to the highest level,” Abdouraman added.
He is right. Some of the country’s football legends including four-time winner of African player of the year, Samuel Eto’o Fils and best African player of the last 50 years according to the Confederation of African Football, Roger Milla, are known to have started their careers playing holiday championships barefooted on dirt pitches.
Cameroon will host Africa’s biggest football event, Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), next year. For the football dreamers in the Central African nation, AFCON is driving their ambition for fame, especially when famous players like Egypt’s Mohamed Salah and Senegal’s Sadio Mane will show up.
Consequently, the number of young people eager to play football has increased tremendously, said Louis Tangono, who coaches Mokolo FC.
“We searched for young people who play football here and there and who are not part of the association that organizes the holiday tournament to form a team. We also recruit players from clubs in Yaounde,” said the 32-year-old, himself a former professional football player.
Some of his players have been mascots for test games in local football clubs, and Tangono says they’re inspired especially as they wait to witness AFCON first hand.
“We are pleased to receive the Africa Cup of Nations here. It encourages us to work harder in order to have a place in the next Africa Cup of Nations,” said Gautier.
“We will see many football stars in our country (during AFCON),” added Abdouraman who once tasted football glory when he spent three years playing for a club in Turkey. Even as chances are dimming that football will help him find a way out of his humble neighborhood, AFCON is keeping his hopes alive.
“It (AFCON) will permit us watch big footballers play and learn to become big professional footballers in future,” he said.
But the road to football glory in Cameroon is long and unfriendly. Although the country has just constructed a world class football stadium in preparations for AFCON, in most cases, slums are breeding grounds for some of the top football talent. For every player who makes it to a first division team in the country, an estimated 500 are left behind, according to football analysts.
Even the fortunate few who make it are unlikely to land a lucrative deal.
Still, the dream calls.
When the referee blew the final whistle, Abdouraman’s team was the champion after winning Mokolo FC 2-1.