Erkut Sogut plans on exposing the ugly side of the beautiful game

Erkut Sogut has seen it all after 20 years in football representing the likes of Mesut Ozil… now he’s taking up the pen to expose the ugly side of the beautiful game from human trafficking to the nepotism at Europe’s top clubs threatening livelihoods

  • Erkut Sogut wants to shine a light on issues often ignored in the world of football
  • The agent, who has represented the likes of Mesut Ozil, is penning his first books
  • The 41-year-old has witnessed the problem of human trafficking within the sport
  • Sogut wants to raise awareness of the side of the game that many don’t see 

Erkut Sogut is a figure well acquainted with the shiny veneer of professional football. Now he’s switching focus, determined to shine a light on its grotesque underbelly.

As Mesut Ozil’s agent, the 41-year-old has been at the side of one of the sport’s most coveted stars and has been exposed to life at the top of the game. Through his work in education, he has also seen what it looks like at the very bottom. What he has been confronted by has repulsed him.

‘I met a player in Nairobi who paid money to so-called agents,’ he tells Sportsmail. ‘He came four hours by bus to see me. He had a letter with him. It looked like an invitation for a trial at Werder Bremen.

Dr Erkut Sogut has began on a path of educating people about the murky side of football

‘He was so confident. He gave me the paper. My first impression was that it looks OK. If it looks real for me, imagine for him.

‘But then I called someone from the club, I said there’s a boy here who says he is coming for trials this summer. They said no, there’s no one like that. It’s not in our system. Then I looked at the paper again and realised the small mistakes.

‘Imagine, this boy comes four hours to meet me and I need to tell him: ”My friend, this will not happen”.’

This is just one example of the ploys used by human traffickers to prey on the dreams of young players in Africa that Sogut has come across. By his reckoning, there are anywhere between 15,000 and 20,000 minors stranded in Europe after being brought across on the pretence of trials with major clubs.

The emergence of the likes of Michael Essien have seen fraudsters prey upon the aspirations of African footballers

‘I then asked him how much money he had paid to these guys,’ he continues. ‘He said there’s a German and Scottish agent he’s working with, he gave me their names and showed me Whatsapp messages with them. It looks all real. Maybe these guys aren’t even Scottish or German. It’s a scam.

‘He’d paid already $3,000. And he said everyone in the village, every family, gave something so he could go.’

Fraudsters are targeting communities across Africa and Sogut is inundated with tales during his trips to Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria. One hopeful handed over money only to realise his connecting flight to America from Ethiopia didn’t exist. Another landed in the UK but instead of attending trials, his agents tried to coerce him into attending sex parties. He escaped but is now stuck alone in east London trying to survive.

The success of African stars in the Premier League and Ligue 1 has exacerbated the issue. The likes of Sadio Mane providing for an entire town, yet alone his family, gives aspirations to those close to the agent’s mark and sees them part with large amounts of cash. Sogut points to Michael Essien’s £70,000-a-week deal at Chelsea as a watershed moment.

‘That’s when Ghana changed and said ”wow, we can do that, too”,’ he says. ‘It was a dream then suddenly.

‘How many players have you heard of coming from Africa, and getting a trial and signing a pro deal? I don’t know any and I’m 20 years in this business.

‘It is forbidden under FIFA regulations the transfer of a player under 18, but they’re still doing it. It’s trafficking of minors, these kids are stranded at 16, 17 in Europe with nothing.

‘A lot of players are not talking about it when it happens. They’re living illegally for a while. They are not saying they came for football, they are kind of embarrassed. They can’t go back home in terms of money. They took money to come here. We’re talking about $3,000-$10,000 in average for someone to be brought over for football.’

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (left) and Uli Hoeness (right) have worked alongside their siblings at Bayern Munich

Sogut acknowledges that there are those attempting to raise awareness – he namechecks Mission 89 in Switzerland during our chat. But his own passion for education – he has a PhD in sports law – has seen him take his own measures.

Ahead of moving to the United States in two month to become a professor, he has embarked on a career as a part-time author, writing two books through which he hopes to expose a wider audience to issues within football.

His first, Deadline, focuses on a different issue – nepotism. ‘I’ve seen it everywhere and every day,’ he says.

‘I’ll give you an example. At Bayern Munich, not a long time ago, because [Karl-Heinze] Rumenigge is not actively there anymore, and neither is [Uli] Hoeness.

‘Rumenigge’s brother is a football agent, Rumenigge’s son, Roman, is also a football agent. Hoeness’s brother is a football agent, and not a long time ago Matthias Sammer was working for the club. His son is also a football agent.

‘Now imagine all these agents lingering around the football club Bayern Munich. You’re already 1-0 down. You’re fighting against someone who has a family member in the club, what can you do?’

Sogut fears the power these family ties can wield, and points to the FIFA reforms on agent’s fees

Sogut fears the power these family ties can wield, and points to the FIFA reforms on agent’s fees that will be implanted this year as an example of the dangers nepotism poses – the consulting of the European Club Association on the matter causing particular consternation.

‘No one can explain to me,’ he says. ‘For four years I’ve been asking FIFA, can someone explain to me why someone that is representing a club deserves more money than someone who is investing years and years in a player?

‘Working with them four, five years and then making a deal and just get three per cent. How does someone working in League One, League Two survive with just three per cent?

‘And why does someone on the club side, who has just made two phone calls on the sale of a player gets ten per cent?

‘Now you know what’s going on. Someone is protecting their interests there.’

 Dr. Erkut Sogut’s book DEADLINE is available now

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