Sports News of Mon, 27 Mar 20173
Michael Essien I want to play as you : Ahilan Ratnamohan
Michael Essien I want to play as you… is a powerful and explosive football-dance-theatre performance exploring the line between hope and desperation for young African footballers who migrate to Europe to play professionally.
‘You might not know us. You might not see us. But we are training. All over Europe. All over the world.’
In every country where football is a big deal there will be a field, somewhere, filled with migrant players who have travelled there to make it big.
This is where they come to train and to be together, a transient family of athletes from the world’s developing countries.
It was on such a field in Belgium where Australian-born Ahilhan Ratnamohan first met the men on-stage tonight.
Once an aspiring pro footballer himself, Ratnamohan went around Europe trialling at professional clubs, so had some insight into the cut-throat world of professional football.
Some of the men we meet tonight sold their land and family possessions to leave their homes – sometimes as children – with shady agents just to be abandoned in Europe with no legal documentation, no contract and no club.
It is a phenomenon that has been dubbed ‘the football slave trade’ – the exploitation of young black African men and boys with big dreams.
It has echoes of both the poison vortex of Hollywood but also of earlier times, when young black African men where commodified in not-so-dissimilar way.
We can see, almost at once, that the six athletic young men on stage are not trained dancers.
Individually, their movements are sometimes clumsy, sometimes out of sync with the music or each other – these are footballers on stage, and their grace is of a different kind.
They perform complex drills, dancing around and over the ball – eventually, they begin to fall in with each other and find harmony in moving as a group, as team. It is choreographed, and compelling, and refreshingly unpolished.
One by one, the performers share stories of their experiences of being brought to Europe for football: The allure of Europe and the glamour of being a European footballer is so strong, they tell us, that you will leave everything you have, and everyone you know in a another continent, only to arrive and find that in reality, Europe is a cold place.
The moments of darkness are artfully balanced with light. It is a work about an oppressed and marginalised group of young men, but it’s also the story of six friends, filled with silliness, hope and dancing (and I mean dancing as opposed to Dance) making Michael Essien I Want to Play As You…, heart-warming and human and quite special.
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