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‘Football is a scam’ – How the Premier League’s original Spanish wonderkid lost his love for the game

At 14, Jacinto Ela was one of the world’s best players in his age group. At 19, he moved to the Premier League. At 26, he had quit football at the top level.

Nowadays, the former Southampton forward is remembered by few fans. There are precious few YouTube highlights, no skill compilations, no real records of his goals and glory.

Yet a quarter of a century ago, he was the game’s next big thing.

The year is 1996 and Manchester is hosting the Nike Premier Cup, a competition pitting clubs from around the world against each other, featuring players aged between 13 and 15.

One of them immediately catches the eye, a young man on the books of Espanyol. Ela was born in Equatorial Guinea, but his family moved to Spain when he was young.

The 14-year-old certainly has the Iberian flair, the innate ability to do as he pleases with the ball at his feet. Deployed on the wing, the two-footed No.10 is the focal point of his side’s attacks.

Espanyol wins the cup and Ela is named player of the tournament. Suddenly, for professional scouts, Ela is a marked man.

Yet just 12 years later, Ela was on the books of CE Premia, an amateur club in Catalonia.

At the age of 26, when most top players are approaching the best years of their careers, Ela decided to call it quits and walk away from the game entirely.

On his website, he links to blogs he has written about his experiences in football, to Amazon links to buy books he has written – including one titled ‘Diary of a poor soccer player’.

 

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