Sebastian Abbot combines his passion for soccer and his background as a Associated Press bureau chief based in the middle east together in his latest project: “The Away Game: The Epic Search for Soccer’s Next Superstars.” Abbot will be appearing at Books & Books in Coral Gables to promote the book this weekend.
To listen to the full interview with Sebastian Abbot, play the video below!
The Supreme Soccer Search
Abbot’s book provides an inside look at the State of Qatar’s search for talent for its national team in advance of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, which Qatar is hosting. The country has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into a talent search which has focused on Africa.
“[Qatar] has held tryouts for more than five million boys, mostly in Africa, looking for soccer’s next superstars,” Abbot said in an interview Thursday night. “Every year, they’ve chosen a handful of kids and trained them to become professionals at a billion-dollar sports academy in Qatar … It was over 1,000 times more selective than getting into Harvard.”
It was Abbot’s background in the Middle East and Africa that enabled him to pursue the project.
“I was living and working in Cairo as a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press and sort of stumbled across the story,” Abbot said. “I wrote an article about it at the time and eight years later wondered if anyone had ever written a book about it. Nobody had, so I kind-of launched on a four-year odyssey.”
The book takes a wide-view perspective of the search and what Qatar is doing in advance of the World Cup, but also spends time with a few of the boys who made the cut and were selected to train with the Qatari program.
“I largely focus on three African boys who were found 10 years ago — Two fro Senegal, one from Ghana — and tell the story through their experience,” Abbot said. “I talk about where they grew up, where they learned how to play soccer, where they were first spotted by Qatar’s scouts and the experience of being transported from their home to Doha, a world that was so radically different than where they came from that it was hard for them to believe.
“For me, it was fascinating to get to know these kids and spend time with them. When you spend time in West Africa … you sort of realize these kids are very indicative of the millions of kids in Africa that grow up dreaming about becoming stars in Europe. They spend their lives, their childhoods, playing on dirt fields idolizing players like Messi and Ronaldo. For some of them to actually achieve that and get to Europe was just an amazing experience.”
El Clasico Chat
Abbot will be appearing at Books & Books in Coral Gables at 1:30 on Sunday, May 6, for a talk about his book, but the experience will offer even more for soccer fans, and fans of Barcelona and Real Madrid in particular. Abbot will be featuring in a traditional book talk and question and answer session, but afterwards Books & Books will be showing El Clásico. Abbot will provide halftime commentary as well.
“I think it’s going to be a really fun event,” Abbot said. “Folks who come will get to learn about this epic worldwide search for the next Messi and then they’ll get to watch the real one in action as he takes on Real Madrid”