Joseph Darfoor owns 40 cards, and any of them could be the one. Each displays basic information about a child footballer, along with a mug shot in which the kid holds his own registration number and age category: sub-17, sub-14, sub-12. “The cards protect me from poaching,” says Darfoor, 62, referring to other local agents who might try to lure away players from his collection. “You must have proof that he is yours.”

Darfoor is a football agent in Accra, Ghana, where he owns a training center. Some cards he acquired by going to the local football association and signing kids he had spotted playing in the street. Others he bought from other agents. In Accra, a teenager is worth about US$200, his card changing hands between training centers, football academies and youth clubs. “They have to go through at least two or three teams before they have a chance of getting noticed by foreign scouts,” says Darfoor.

That chance usually comes when an agent organizes a local tournament and invites international scouts to attend, something Darfoor is planning. He knows he could make hundreds of thousands of euros if he managed to sell a player to Europe. He also knows that his training center has a good testimonial up north: Michael Essien used to train in Dansoman, the same neighborhood where Darfoor scouts. Essien is now a star player for Italy’s AC Milan, his card worth millions.