For a while, the 23-year-old boy, whose identity is being withheld to protect his privacy, kept the news to himself. He knew he was lucky and was chosen from a group of two dozen boys who were given coveted places at the French national training center in Clairefontaine, arguably the world’s leading final football school. He knew that Clairefontaine had been the launch pad for dozens of top French professional players. Instead of talking about the disturbing messages, the boy said nothing to his teammates, coaches or parents.
The first idea that something was wrong came on a bus trip in 2012. The group of talented teenagers was in a typically exuberant mood. They made fun of each other when one of the players, Tiago Escorza, picked up his teammate’s cell phone. Escorza, now 23, remembered seeing messages from the instructor to the boy and telling him that he loved him. His reaction was to burst into laughter – and then read the news to the other players.
“We all said to him,” Is that your father or what? “Said Hedi Mehnaoui, an attending goalkeeper. As they were entering their teenage years, he said in a recent interview that they were not mature enough to understand the impact the news has on the boy or the motives that San Jose has for sending.” of them had to grasp.
But looking back, said Mehnaoui, he now remembers his friend who often talked about leaving the academy. “He never really explained why,” said Mehnaoui, the boy’s roommate. “He kept everything to himself, so I didn’t ask too much either.”
A few months later, the boy’s mother also became aware of the news. She switched on a new cell phone she had bought for her son and saw a text from San José.
Her husband was angry at the news, she said, but he was also dealing with a serious illness and she decided that she would be the one to confront San Jose in person. She did so with a letter given to him in Clairefontaine, which instructed him under no circumstances to send further messages to her son or to be alone with him. San José, she said, disarmed her by telling her that in his culture – he has a Spanish background – it was routine to say things like “I love you” to people outside of your own family.
The matter might have ended there had it not been for a conversation between two guards responsible for looking after the team during a routine evening inspection. They were shown messages – relayed to two other boys – that they had been written by San Jose. “I’m tired of always saying I love you,” read one of the guards.