Back in April, I got a couple of tip-offs directing me to some sport websites with staggering claims from individuals. One said ‘Hello, I’m Michael Manillo, Chelsea’s chief talent scout. Chelsea is currently recruiting. If you’re interested please send me your CV”, and had a Google or Hotmail address for email contact.
We picked out the most audacious claims and once we made sure there was solid evidence, and that they really were con artists, I knew there was a story.
We enlisted the help of Ibrahim Sannie, a BBC reporter in Nigeria and he started emailing some of the conmen with the pretence that his son wanted to play for an English club.
Some of the emails were hilarious. One from ‘the Manchester United scout’asked questions like ‘Which footballer’s wife would you like to marry?’along with questions asking for bank details, as if that would make it legitimate.
Another ‘scout”, supposedly from Man United, said he could only speak occasionally over the next few days because he was at the Champions League final in Moscow and was busy celebrating with Alex Ferguson. He also said Ferguson was more concerned about getting the money from our young footballer than about winning the Champions League. It seems like a really obvious scam to us, but the teenagers are just desperate to come to England and it’s the only way they can get a work permit.
Myself and producer Ed Main went to Apapa in Lagos for a week in June, and Ibrahim went undercover as the father of a 17-year-old football talent. He was a very modest man, quite sensible and laid-back, but as soon as he got on the phone, he transformed. He was an amazing actor – in one conversation he even managed to act as the player himself, and his father.
We arranged to hand over the money, but the nearer it got to the meeting in Lagos, it became clear that they really wanted us to wire it. We were supposed to meet a ‘club secretary’one evening at 7pm, and he just didn’t show up.
Ibrahim then pretended he had to leave Apapa at 8am the next day to catch a flight, and arranged to meet him at 7am, but again he didn’t show up. It was getting later and later, and eventually he called again at 7.45am saying that he had close to $3,700 in his back pocket. Greed overcame any suspicions the man had and he showed up five minutes after that. When the cameras came out and he saw there was no way out, he confessed everything.