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.


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
796.334 ABB Book Adult General Collection

On Order



The gripping story of a group of boys discovered in what may be the largest talent search in sports history.

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

Soccer (or football, as it's known by most of the world) approaches the status of a religion around the globe. For many youth, playing for a first-division European team may provide an opportunity to escape an impoverished life. In his first book, journalist Abbot presents the quest to discover the next generation of elite players through the work of Aspire Football Dreams. Founded in Qatar in 2005, the organization sends scouts into Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia to hold tryouts for local talent. Players making the cut go the Aspire academy in Duha for additional training. Abbot focuses on Spanish scout Joseph Colmers and the African players he has recruited. Some found success playing for second-division European teams. Other struggled and eventually returned home. Abbot also provides insight into the roles of sports medicine and psychology in developing players and the politics and economics of major league soccer. Reader Robert Fass does an excellent job presenting the story. VERDICT Listeners with an interest in the game will enjoy this audiobook. ["A fascinating glimpse into the world of soccer scouts": LJ 5/15/18 review of the Norton hc.]-Stephen L. Hupp, West -Virginia Univ. -Parkersburg Lib. © 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