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Talent Identification And Football Labor Migration From Africa To Europe


Background of Study

The market for talent is becoming increasingly globalised, large, and international. From 1990 to 2000, the stock of high skilled migrants to 30 OECD countries rose from 12.5 to 20 million (Docquier et al., 2009). Professional football has one of the most globalised labour markets. Since the mid-1970s, an increasing number of talented players have moved across countries and continents to (re-)join the top European leagues. Amongst those talents, African footballers have become a staple of professional European leagues. As noted by Darby et al (2007) and Poli (2010a), the growing presence of young West African footballers in European clubs has given rise to accusations of exploitative relations between core and peripheral footballing regions. It means that European clubs use their economic influence to shape the labour-migration process and dictate trade on terms benefitting the European football, the core, to the detriment of their African counterparts, the periphery.

In that way, African football players are used to enrich the European football industry instead of improving it in their own countries. It increases the power of European football clubs at the expense of migrants. In addition, the position of football talent migrants is not thus good: they form a distinct social class, usually without clear and stable status (Agergaard & Ungruhe, 2016). They find the source of finances and improving their skills, but they still are migrants in those countries, which means the large cultural differences and hardships connected with them. There is a problem of an extensive migration of skilled athletes from their home countries to the more developed ones, where they have more perspectives, but less stable social status. Due to it, along with cultural differences, migrants have lower life satisfaction; in addition, sport development in their home countries is highly hindered.

European representatives tend to attract the prospective African football players, train them, and invite to European countries, alluring by higher life quality than in Africa. The powerful economic position of European football clubs in shaping labour-migration has involved the use of Talent Identification and Development (TID) strategies as a pull factor in drawing African talents to Europe (Darby and Solberg, 2009). This theme is understudied and poorly represented in the literature, despite being an important factor in the global sport talent market; thus, it would be good to study it more thoroughly. According to the authors, the European region offers more sophisticated environment for talent identification, development and selection, attracting talents abroad, who may find more opportunities there than in their less developed countries. The identification, development and selection of elite soccer players thus require analysis of several interconnected physiological, biomechanical, psychological and sociological factors.

Among them, physiological and biomechanical factors are directly connected with their football skills, and define what players need to be the best. In contrast, psychological and sociological ones explain why talents are appreciated, how they migrate to the more developed countries in search for opportunities, and the outcomes of this. Here, the main topic of the research is the player development aspect in relation to football labour migration. In that way, all four factors are to be researched and conclusions will be made based on them.

Challenges in Ghana are associated with talent identification and development, thereby contributing significantly to the phenomenon of sports labour migration in the football industry. Talents are not identified properly, and no required actions are taken to develop them and provide opportunities to grow their careers (Till & Baker, 2020). Talented people may perform on large competitions, such as international sport events or Olympic Games, winning fame and money. Before that, however, they should be admitted and trained accordingly to their initial characteristics and inclination. Sport facilities in Ghana are usually not able to perform it: they lack money, interest, or both (Till & Baker, 2020). Even if they good potential, skills, strength, endurance, and agility, they may have no opportunities to realize their potential.

This paper argues that proper talent identification and development strategies in the African football environment can be used a significant tool to build a better sports industry in African countries, such as Ghana. The study investigates existing TID strategies in the context of a developing economy (Ghana) and highlights key challenges associated with sport talents identification and development. Relations between the quality of football talents training and their migration are explored. Possible solutions for the optimisation of the talent development are proposed.

Research Questions and Objectives

The question is the mentioned relationship between the poor level of talent training and their migration to the developed countries. While the TID concept is still disputed (Till & Baker, 2020), it proved itself as a good and reliable tool for resource management in the sport industry. It means that sport facilities in developing countries, such as Ghana, lack resources, money, and well-trained staff; in that way, they have limited opportunities in talent development and identification. Therefore, the existing principles of talent identification and development usually work worse or do not work at all in the conditions of poor countries, and thus, should be adjusted for them.

Generally, a Talent Identification and Development System (TIDS) consists of five points, four of which are considered to be the main (Williams & Reilly, 2000). The last, fifth step, which is connected with talent transfer, was developed later and is used when talents may be transferred to another sports, where they will have better opportunities (Vaeyens et al., 2008).

  1. Talent Detection is the discovery of people who has the potential in the sports industry. They will be evaluated and trained in the next stages to increase their performance; at first, the task is only to identify them.
  2. Talent Identification is the recognizing the potential presented in each particular gifted person.
  3. Talent Development is the training program, environment creation, and facilitation of the sport skills development for each identified talent.
  4. Talent Selection is the measuring of the sports performance of talents, and then selecting them for the competitions, such as the Olympic games.
  5. Talent Transfer, the final stage, is the transferring of some of the talents from one sport to another, which is the most suited for them.

Many recent studies are dedicated to the sport talent search, identification, and training: each stages of this process are described and classified. However, the connection of TIDS with sports industry problems in developing countries, such as Ghana, was understudied. A systematic review of TIDS by Johnston et al. (2017) describes biomechanical factors, such as strength development, and psychological, such as social support. However, little attention is paid to the relation of talent identification with sports labour migration. The work of Elliott & Maguire (2008), dedicated to the mentioned problem, identifies clearly that the theme of sports labour migration is very slightly covered and encourage other scholars to explore it. However, only small part of this work focuses on specifically talent identification and development system, and how it contributes to sports labour migration in the context of a developing country. The work of Darby & Solberg (2009) and Esson (2015), as well as other works of Darby, are dedicated to Ghanian football talents migration. Despite that, the view on this process is limited and there is no connection with TID and, thus, no vision of how talents may be developed in their home countries.

Thus, the phenomenon of sports migration is viewed from the lenses of socio-economic perspective, where sports talents move to pry their trade in a far more advanced economy to better their lives. Much of the existing studies have not considered the role of talent identification and development and how it affects football talents in the migration (Maguire, 2000). However, in less developed economies such as Ghana, talent identification and development may not have received much attention as it has been in developed sports regions (Alegi, 2010). Sports athlete move from less sports industry into a more sophisticated zone where they can find opportunities to develop their sports talent. All those researches, including mentioned works of Darby and Esson, views the migration as the socioeconomic process, when sports talents naturally move to more developed countries. No attention is paid to the opportunities of the improving the situation in those less developed countries by implementing the TIDS in them.

This study, on the contrary, investigates the phenomenon of migration of footballers from Ghana’s sports industry and how it relates to talent identification and development system. An investigation into existing TID approaches as well as how TID relates with the phenomenon of sports labour migration will help to evaluate the inefficiencies in existing approaches and develop more effective strategies. They, in turn, will help to develop the sport industry in Ghana and other African countries, preventing talent outflow and stimulating the growth.

All mentioned questions and objectives may be summarized in the four points:

  1. Explore existing talent identification approaches and strategies in Ghana’s Football Industry.
  2. Examine the challenges in effective implementation of TID systems in Ghana: why they are used wrongly, and how it may be improved.
  3. Explore the phenomenon of the migration of football talent from Ghana to Europe and how it relates to the wrong talent identification and development system implementation.
  4. Provide recommendations for talent identification and management in Ghana’s Football Industry: strategies and approaches that will probably work better, improve the performance of the industry, and prevent the talent outflow.

Significance of the Research

The findings of the research will inform stakeholders on the relationship between talent identification and development, and the migration of football talent in Ghana’s sports industry. Then, they will be able to develop better talent identification systems, being able to manage their limited resources more efficiently. The study seeks to serve as an evaluation and assessment tool for TID in Ghana, benefiting its football talents. Lastly, the findings from the study shall contribute to the academia by increasing the knowledge base of existing literature in Ghana carried out on the topic under study. The work will serve as secondary source of data, which may be used as reference document for future researchers studying talent identification and training in developing countries.

Literature Review


The purpose of literature review is to aid both the understanding of theories and variables which underline the study. This chapter defines the various concept under study and explores the literature, such as peer-reviewed articles, on talent identification and labour migration in Africa drawing from the conclusions and findings from the various authors. There are three themes, important for this study: the talent identification and development systems and models, the football migration from Ghana and other developing countries, and the connection between those two topics. Literature connected with those three themes will be reviewed in the chapter.

Talent Identification and Development System (TIDS)

Talent identification and development (TID) is an approach of searching, identifying, and training people who have opportunities to become professional sportsmen. It is valuable for sports stakeholders, as it increases their competitiveness and revenues (Vaeyens et al., 2008). In their book, Bloom and Sosniak (1988) described that the talent identification and development system is especially important for the youth: it helps them gain competence in areas where their talents are relevant. Bloom connects ‘identification’ with ‘development’ in this context: first, the talent is identified, and then, the young person is trained according to the talent. According to Collins and MacNamara (2012), the goal of TID is to assist individuals in discovering their capabilities and turning them into skills with high performance. In their review, Johnston et al. (2017) showed various factors, such as physical strength, sports performance indicators, physical appearance, are used to determinate the talent and how they may be assisted. Thus, TIDS are the set of systems used by sport trainers for identifying and developing people, especially young, with high potential in the certain sports area.

While most emerging economies have yet to establish official TID practices, developed countries have attained supremacy in international sports by improving and continuously reviewing their TID systems. The article of Vaeyens et al. (2008) presents a roadmap with five steps, which were described in Chapter 1, of how the TID may be used. Such systems are called Talent Identification and Development Systems, or TIDS. Though the establishment of formal TID models and processes may not be the sole determinant of success, it is a sign of the value which may be created in the sport industry.

In Ghana, an African developing country, there are problems with implementing TIDS. Corruption and maladministration are widespread, which means that costs invested in the sport industry will unlikely be used efficiently (Darby & Solberg, 2009). However, the approach proposed by TIDS may help improve the situation, even despite those problems. Questions, raised in the study of Till & Baker (2020), such as whether the proposed TID model is appropriate in the situation or the trainer would better to choose another one, are useful. They raise awareness in how the future Olympic champions may be identified and prepared, even in case of limited resources and problems, such as corruption.

Football Labor Migration in Ghana and Other Countries

Football labor migration is the process of the movement of football players from one country of origin seeking to implement their talent in other country. Usually, it is the move from the less developed country to the more developed one, in search of financial benefits and life stability (Darby & Solberg, 2009). According to the Darby (2013) article, as well as his other articles, Ghanian best football players are actively flowing to the more developed countries because they can create more value there. It means that they cannot realize themselves in their home poor countries, and have to search better options. However, according to Agergaard and Ungruhe (2016), sport migrants are still vulnerable social group, characterized as precariat, as their opportunities are still more limited than native European sportsmen. The article of Elliott & Maguire (2008) is one of the few researching the connection of sports migration with sports sociology, inspecting, thus, the sociological factors. In that way, while football labour migration is not understudied topic, it is not researched enough from the sociological perspective.

Football labour migration is almost as old as the sport itself: it began as different cultures started to connect with each other. Now, when the world is interconnected and travels are much easier than before, the rate of migration is enormous (Esson, 2015). Even a basic examination of club football’s early beginnings, notably in continental Europe, reveals that it was primarily based on the activities of migrants. According to Taylor (2007), the perspective of social scientists on football labour migration has not paid enough attention to the historical context of the phenomenon. Taylor believes that to better understand the phenomenon is to take a look at the historical background of football labour migration. Football clubs, thus, were actively created in the Europe and attract players from around the world. This process was the most active in the Great Britain, but there were others countries involved as well (Darby, 2007). Footballers’ mobility is limited by the international laws and rules of the world football organisations, such as FIFA (Littlewood et al., 2011). Young talents are especially valued, and children talented in sports are often invited by those clubs in developed countries.

To conclude, the literature that describes the football labour migration may be characterized by the next points:

  • The migration is usually viewed from the point of talent moving from the less developed countries to the more developed ones: that is, from the socioeconomic perspective.
  • The migration is viewed as the result of the poorly developed infrastructure in their home countries.
  • Little attention is paid to the connection of football migration and talent identification and development systems in their home countries: there are almost no recommendations of how the situation may be improved.

Connections Between TIDS and Labour Migration

While there are much of literature dedicated to the sports labour migration, it is, as mentioned, mostly dedicated to the socioeconomical perspective of this phenomena. The majority of studies focusing on football and global athlete flows from the Global South to the North (Maguire & Falcous, 2010). They concentrate on global value chains: determining and describing the value creating by sportsmen with their skills, when migrating to other clubs in developed countries (Klein, 2010; Darby, 2013). They also describe the reasons why the sports industry is underdeveloped in poor African countries, showing examples of poor management and widespread corruption and how they influence the sports. There was no advice, however, on how those issues may be overcome and which approaches may be used for that.

The relationship between African sport talent migrants and European football clubs may be considered exploitative. In his article, Darby (2000) connects such migrations with the political situation, comparing the practice of attracting football talents from poor countries with the neocolonialism. He also describes the resistance from the native citizens of those countries and impoverishment of many migrants. While they actually have better financial perspectives, they are forced to work for those football clubs and often have very little life satisfaction from this. He then develops his ideas in other articles, where he shows evidence of the exploitation of African football talents by Portugal clubs (Darby, 2007). In that way, there is an actual problem of African football talents development. Their migration limits the development of the sports industry in their home countries and, in addition, brings no life satisfaction to them.

As a result, there are limited precedents in the European setting for relating player movement with TIDS. Maguire and Pearton (2000) investigated how the movement patterns of male football players who participated in the 1998 World Cup may have influenced talent identification. They found that African football talents are usually migrated to England, Germany, Italy, and Spain. They also showed drawbacks of the migration: a lack of investment in local talent development and clubs and less playing opportunities for domestic players. The benefits are the overall rise in football quality and the ability for migrant players to serve as role models for domestic talent.

It was also found that migrant players’ participation in English youth academies resulted in the active skill exchange. It is the outcome of the communication between different cultures, united by sports, in the English Premier Academy League (Elliott & Weedon, 2011). This is also known as an epistemic community, which refers to the professional communication between specialists, committed to sharing and applying their knowledge (Haas, 1992). It means that the migration, despite its drawbacks, may be used for the development of sport industries of the migrants’ home countries. For that, migrants need to be ready and able to share their acquired knowledge with sports clubs and emerging talents in those countries.

The Current Research

The current research is dedicated to close the gap between the football players migration and TIDS by exploring connections between them. Then, the question is how TIDS may be used to improve the situation with poorly developed sports industry. For this reason, the series of interviews with Ghanian football talent industry was conducted: there were football scouts, coaches, and ordinary players. The obtained information was then analysed according to the developed research methodology and design. Recommendations about how the industry may be improved will be formulated based on the result on the analysis.

Research Methodology

Research Design and Approach

The qualitative approach should be applied, as the research deals with qualitative, not quantitative data. There are no degrees and numbers, but pieces of information about how the Ghanian football players are developed, trained, evaluated, and which experience they obtain. The qualitative method is intended to give the researcher a way to comprehend phenomena by observing or engaging with the study’s participants (Denzin & Lincoln, 2008). It means that the information will be obtained from the participants via interview: sincere talks according to questions in the questionnaire and ethical principles.

For the purpose of this study, explanatory research design using the qualitative approach was adopted. Explanatory research is a type of research design that focuses on linking various events and facts by similar explanations (Buchanan & Seligman, 2009). It is well-suited for researches that deal with different types of information, connected with the single thesis. In that way, it is good for the current research, where the data from the series of in-depth interviews should be connected together. The information, obtained from interviews, is analysed according to the explanations, to connect various pieces of information from various interviewees together.

In that way, the proposed qualitative explanatory research design helps it in reaching its objectives. To remember, they are: find why there is a lack of development in Ghanian football talent industry, how the migration hinders it and which benefits it have, and how the situation may be improved. Recommendations will be formulated based on the explanations, created to connect the data obtained from interviews.

Data Collection Methods

Interviews were employed as the major source of data in order to provide detailed information to better understand the phenomenon under study. They were designed as in-depth interviews, with the help of the interview guide (Boyce & Neale, 2019). The interview guides were semi-structured to allow for flexibility in the researchers’ interaction with the participants. This way, the researcher had more opportunity to ask questions and probe for additional information. Also, interviews were semi-structured to ensure that key areas relevant to the study are fully captured and at the same time give some level of limited freedom to respondents. It allows to discuss other aspects of their experience in the industry relevant to the topic they wish to discuss to ensure free and effective flow of discussion.

The interview questions were structured around the study objectives: the TIDS, and how they may be implemented to help develop the talents in Ghana and other African countries. Different questions were designed for different participants: scouts were asked about their job time, reasons to work, and experience. The main point of interest is the number of players they were scouted, criteria on which they base when scouting, the condition of scouted players, and how they maintain contact with them. In addition, their opinion was asked, too: what they think about the scouting industry’s development over the last years and how they feel about its future. For coaches, the criteria of the perfect football player and how they train players to fit those criteria, were the main points of interest. Their view on talent identification and development, their approaches, and their personal relationships with players and scouts were also asked. As for players, their experience was the most valued point for the research, and for interview with them, questions were the least structured. The reason for that is that each player has the most unique story and the path to success, and the current research is interested in them.

The Study Participants

The population of interest for this research includes all stakeholders in Ghana’s Football Industry. They may be divided on three categories: players, scouts, and couches, and the questionnaire contains different approaches to all of them. In total, 10 players, three couches, and three scouts were interviewed. Each interview lasted from 30 to 70 minutes, depending on the particular case. All scouts have the experience in scouting football players abroad, and all coaches said that they have several players who managed to make their career in the developed country. Players described their experience: how their talent was revealed by themselves or trainers, how they were trained and developed, and what they expect from their careers.

Data Analysis

Thematic data analysis has been used for this study, as it is well-suited for the wellbeing field and get good qualitative results. It is a method for studying qualitative data which contains repeating patterns, understanding them, and reporting them; it sheds light on relations and regularities between various patterns (Braun & Clarke, 2014). By creating themes and dividing data according to them, it helps. The ability to be employed within a wide range of theoretical and epistemological frameworks is a defining property of thematic analysis. It was used to perform the current research, as various data connected with the football industry should be analysed. Some scholars have described thematic analysis as belonging to ethnography, such as Aronson (1995), and Joffe (2011) says that it is good suited for the interview analysis to measure the public perception of a particular topic. Braun and Clarke (2014) argue that it may be used as a qualitative method for all fields and is particularly useful in the medicine and wellbeing fields, including sports.

The interviews from the audio files were copied to a storage device and stored as a backup. The audio files were converted to text format, for the more thorough thematic analysis. Topics, derived from the interviews, were then divided into categories and each of them were analysed on repetitions and similar patterns, according to the explanatory research design. Explanation then was created, based on those patterns, and the recommendations about the Ghanian football talent industry development will be formulated based on them.

Ethical Issues

The right of research participant is a legal binding principle that must be observed by researchers. The principles of research ethics were taken from the article of Pimple (2002), and the most important points for the current research are informed consent, respect for participants, special permissions, right to check and modify, data protection, and full confidentiality. Due to the presence of several interviewees and the lengthy talks with them, all of them should be treated respectfully and as unobtrusively as possible. All information, obtained from them, should be totally open for them and be withdrew after the first request. All their names, surnames, and other sensitive information should be protected and not shared with anyone. Special permission for the usage of recorded data was obtained before the research. In that way, the strong ethical principles are the integral part of the research design.


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