I was promised I would be next Neymar by fake football scout – I moved 6,000 miles & was left starving with no water


A TEEN’S football dream turned into a living nightmare after he was duped by a fake scout who told him he would be the next Neymar.

Lian Belem was 18 when he was promised football stardom by a scout in Italy – but months later, he was left without water, barely any food, and almost lost thousands of pounds.


Lian Belem was promised football stardom in Italy by a football scoutCredit: Supplied / Lian Belem
The young footballer joined US Albaronco ASD, near Verona, in 2020


The young footballer joined US Albaronco ASD, near Verona, in 2020Credit: Supplied / Lian Belem

Lian is just one of many young football players who have fallen victim to scams.

In April, Spanish cops uncovered two separate rings accused of selling “false expectations” to some 70 Brazilian families.

They allegedly promised to turn their sons into elite footballers.

But a probe into the scheme was launched after one of the players filed a complaint to the cops.

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The rings charged an initial fee of more than €5,000 (£4,400) and then monthly payments of up to €1,700 (£1,450) per player, police said.

Families were told that the money was to cover expenses including tuition fees, housing and paperwork for residency permits in Granada.

But the players “lived in cramped conditions, with little food and none of them managed to get legal residency” in Spain.

An investigation led to the arrest of 11 people.

In Italy, young Brazilian footballer Lian faced a similar situation after being duped by a fake scout.

In December 2019, he met Thyago Rodrigo de Souza, who offered him a place at Italian fourth-division club US Albaronco ASD.

Thyago – who has been convicted of drug trafficking – said he would cover all food and accommodation expenses, and the club would pay Lian £250 a month (€300).

In the meantime, Thyago would sort the player’s Italian citizenship.

However, much was promised and little was delivered.

Lian said he was left without water for almost 10 days, had nothing but a tiny bit of pasta and canned sauce to eat, and almost lost £8,000 when trying to leave the club.

“Thyago told me that playing for Albaronco would be the first step to a great career in European football,” the 21-year-old told The Sun.

“Imagine being a young boy from South America, and this guy says he will help you becoming someone like the next Neymar.

“It was difficult to say no, especially when I was trying so hard to work my way up in the sport.”

Before moving to Italy, he stayed in a luxury apartment with views to Garda Lake, and Thyago would take him to dinner at fancy restaurants.

Lian recalls not having a good first impression of the entrepreneur and football scout, feeling “it all seemed too good to be true”.

“He just talked a lot and sounded he was kind of like overselling everything,” he said.

“But I thought I was overreacting because my cousin was also scouted by Thyago and was on board with everything.”

With no other job prospects in the pipeline, the young footballer said it “felt like it was the right thing to do”.

“Thyago had told me he knew even bigger clubs that he could present me as a player, and that Albaronco was just the way in,” Lian said.

Imagine being a young boy from South America, and this guy says he will help you becoming someone like the next Neymar

Lian Belem

“But then weeks went by and my dream started becoming more of a nightmare.”

Lian arrived in Italy on January 3, 2020, and moved in with four other players aged between 16 and 21 in Isola della Scala, south of Verona.

Eduardo Boni Colle, 29, who now works as a dentist in Bournemouth, lived in the same house.

Eduardo, who was 26 at the time, shared his own nightmare, and told how he alerted the young athletes about Thyago’s “dodgy ways”.

“He would charge us €4,000 to sort out our citizenship, then keep our money but not finish what he promised,” he told The Sun.

Eduardo explained that Italian law requires citizenship applicants to live there for a while, usually by renting a home for approximately 45 days.

While he was away studying, Thyago put several other applicants in the house in Italy that he was paying for – leaving him without anywhere to stay.

“As a result, I was broke and had to live in the streets for a week,” he said.

“I took showers in public bathrooms and slept on a park bench while I struggled to make all that money back.

“And when I tried moving back to the house in Italy, there was no space for me. So Thyago put me in the house with the boys.”

Eduardo then decided to carry his citizenship process on his own.

However, he said he was met with threats and verbal abuse by Thyago, who called him a “f***ing communist” in WhatsApp messages seen by The Sun.

After hearing Eduardo’s story, Lian immediately wanted to find a way back home.

More weeks went by and Lian still did not have any progress with his citizenship – and the struggling group were forced to ration the food they were given.

“Everything was getting out of control,” he said.

“We were in the middle of winter in northern Italy, didn’t have enough food, and stayed without any water because Thyago must’ve forgotten to pay the bills.

“He put an insane psychological pressure on us. I was terrified.”

Lian’s hit rock bottom as Covid began spreading around the world and countries locked down.

But in late February 2020, Lian managed to flee Verona to complete his citizenship with Eduardo’s help.

From there, he flew to London and reunited with his brother, but his nightmare was far from over.

I was broke and had to live in the streets for a week

Eduardo Boni Colle

“On top of all the stress I was put through for the past two months, I was almost left £8,000 out of pocket when Thyago asked me to pay him to terminate my contract with Albaronco,” he said.

Lian explained that the football club did not determine such the fee and it was decided by Thyago as his football agent.

“My teammates and I told absolutely everything about Thyago to the bosses at Albaronco,” he said.

“But it seemed like they didn’t want to get involved, and kept telling us to deal everything with Thyago.

“I then learned they were all free to go, but unlike me, weren’t asked to pay a dime.”

Lawyer Daniela Prado helped the young athlete for free and managed to unbind Lian from Albaronco at no cost.

The legal expert found that Thyago had forged his signature in one of the transfer documents.

“I was deeply moved by what he went through,” Prado told The Sun.

“As a lawyer, I felt a sense of justice and duty to Lian, especially once I found out about Thyago’s record, the forged signature wasn’t much of a surprise.”

Now aged 21, Lian lives in Cambridge and is studying accounting and finance at Anglia Ruskin University.

He hopes to get back on the pitch one day, but he doesn’t how long it will take him to trust anyone in the football industry again.

In 2021, Brazilian news outlet Record TV intercepted Thyago’s telephone calls, revealing his role in an international drug trafficking scheme.

Brazil’s Federal Public Ministry accused Thyago of being responsible for buying the family’s vehicles, managing bank accounts, and hiring drivers to transport the drugs.

The report revealed that the football agent would invest the drug money into Lugano FC, but was removed from the Swiss club once bosses discovered his criminal actions.

After confessing to his crimes, Thyago was not jailed as he sought refuge in Italy as soon as Brazilian police began a crackdown on the gang in 2018.

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Instead, he reached an agreement with prosecutors to pay a £3,800 fine as his actions did not involve violence, Record reports.

The Sun approached Thyago Rodrigo de Souza and US Albaronco ASD for comment.

Eduardo Boni Colle (right) helped Lian (left) get his Italian citizenship


Eduardo Boni Colle (right) helped Lian (left) get his Italian citizenshipCredit: Supplied / Lian Belem

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