Cover image for The away game : the epic search for soccer's next superstars / Sebastian Abbot.
The away game : the epic search for soccer's next superstars / Sebastian Abbot.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : W.W. Norton & Company, [2018]
Physical Description:
xx, 284 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Prologue -- Part one. Boys. The tornado -- The skipper -- The target -- Part two. Trainees. The academy -- Final tryout -- Sent off -- Brothers -- Glory and shame -- The milk cup -- Part three. Pros. Battle of Belgium -- Miracle land -- Only the beginning -- Epilogue.
For the past decade, an audacious program called Football Dreams has held tryouts for millions of young boys across Africa, looking for soccer's next superstars. Sebastian Abbot follows a small group of the boys, weaving together the drama of the boys' determination to chase their dreams with the latest ideas on talent spotting and predicting sporting success, Abbot memorably explores why some of the boys succeed and chronicles the heartbreak of those who don't.


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1 Bob Harkins Branch 796.334 ABB Book Adult General Collection

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Over the past decade, an audacious program called Football Dreams has held tryouts for millions of 13-year-old boys across Africa looking for soccer's next superstars. Led by the Spanish scout who helped launch Lionel Messi's career at Barcelona and funded by the desert kingdom of Qatar, the program has chosen a handful of boys each year to train to become professionals--a process over a thousand times more selective than getting into Harvard.

In The Away Game, reporter Sebastian Abbot follows a small group of the boys as they are discovered on dirt fields across Africa, join the glittering academy in Doha where they train, and compete for the chance to gain fame and fortune at Europe's top clubs. We meet Diawandou, a skilled Senegalese defender whose composure makes him a natural leader on the field; Hamza, a midfielder from Ghana with great talent but a mercurial personality to match; Ibrahima, a towering striker who scores goals by the bucketload; Serigne Mbaye, who glides by players effortlessly but happens to be deaf; and Bernard, often the smallest kid on the field but a sublime playmaker who invites constant comparison to Messi.

Abbot masterfully weaves together the dramatic story of the boys' journey with an exploration of the art and science of trying to spot talent at such a young age. As in so many other sports, data analytics in soccer have expanded in the wake of Moneyball, with scouts employing more sophisticated metrics like "expected goals" and tracking data to judge players. But, as The Away Game chronicles, soccer genius depends more on intangible qualities like "game intelligence" than on easily quantifiable ones.

Richly reported and deeply moving, The Away Game is set against the geopolitical backdrop of Qatar's rise from an impoverished patch of desert to an immensely rich nation determined to buy a place on the international stage. It is an unforgettable story of the joy and pain these talented African boys experience as they chase their dreams in a dizzying world of rich Arab sheikhs, money-hungry agents, and soccer-mad European fans.

Author Notes

Sebastian Abbot worked for the Associated Press in Cairo and Islamabad, where he was bureau chief. He holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Princeton University and a master's degree in public policy from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. He lives in New York.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

African teens vying to become pros in elite soccer leagues find their dreams turning to dust in this alternately hopeful and dispiriting sports saga. Journalist Abbot follows the Football Dreams program, started in 2007 by coach Josep Colomer, a former youth scout for FC Barcelona, to engage 400,000 13-year-old boys from seven African nations in tryouts to find the two dozen best for an advanced soccer academy. To Colomer, this selection promised to uncover potential superstars; to the impoverished kids it promised a shot at million-euro contracts with top European clubs. The program did find superb players, and Abbot presents an interesting exploration of the science of soccer talent, delving into the athleticism, ball-handling skills, strategic game sense, and grit that create success; he suggests that these are honed in the pickup games that Africa's soccer-mad youth delight in. Alas, few Dreamers made it to the pros thanks to exploitative coaches and agents, rigid FIFA rules, and their own duplicity: the best "13-year-olds" probably faked their IDs and were several years older, meaning they were not quite the prodigies they seemed and did not blossom as anticipated. Abbot's narrative features vivid profiles, engrossing play-by-play, and a sobering lesson: bad breaks and cold business calculations sometimes trump ability in the making of champions. Photos. (Mar.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Journalist Abbot provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of soccer scouts through the story of Football Dreams, a program started in 2007 by Josep Colomer (former youth director, FC Barcelona), who helped launch superstar Lionel Messi's career. Funded by the oil-rich nation of Qatar seeking to raise its status in the international soccer world, the program selects and trains the top players among prospective young athletes in several African countries. Abbot expertly weaves the stories of some of the trials and triumphs of young boys in the program into the larger picture of the difficulties of scouting potential professional soccer players at a young age. He also broaches larger, philosophical questions, such as where is the line between the project being a "humanitarian" mission to help impoverished youth and it being exploitative? Abbot does not attempt to answer the questions, leaving it to readers to decide. VERDICT Recommended for soccer fans, especially those who wonder why their favorite team doesn't have a Messi of its own.-Michael C. Miller, Austin P.L. & Austin History Ctr., TX © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prologuep. ix
Part 1 Boys
1 The Tornadop. 3
2 The Skipperp. 28
3 The Targetp. 50
Part 2 Trainees
4 The Academyp. 65
5 Final Tryoutp. 79
6 Sent Offp. 102
7 Brothersp. 125
8 Glory and Shamep. 141
9 The Milk Cupp. 168
Part 3 Pros
10 Battle of Belgiump. 195
11 Miracle Landp. 221
12 Only the Beginningp. 234
Epiloguep. 255
Acknowledgmentsp. 261
A Note on Sourcesp. 265
Photograph Creditsp. 273
Indexp. 275

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