'You're like a slave': Footballers tell of witch doctors extorting vast sums and urging animal sacrifice to boost careers

14 November 2023, 16:25

Several footballers in France are said to have used 'witch doctors'
Several footballers in France are said to have used 'witch doctors'. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

Footballers have claimed that so-called witch doctors have extorted hundreds of thousands of euros out of them and told them to sacrifice animals to further their careers on the pitch.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Some players in France have spent "years" under the influence of the healers, known as 'marabouts', and have told of their reluctance to cut ties for fear of magical reprisals.

Paul Pogba, the former Manchester United star, inadvertently brought the worrying trend to light when his brother accused him of having a curse put on Kylian Mbappé, his teammate with the national side.

Pogba denied the claims - but several other footballers in France say they have fallen prey to the folk healers.

Former Ivory Coast international Gilles Yapi Yapo compared his ordeal to "a spiral."

Read more: Former Manchester United star Paul Pogba faces lengthy ban after failing drugs test

Read more: Paul Pogba removes Heineken beer bottle after Cristiano Ronaldo Coke snub

Gilles Yapi Yapo
Gilles Yapi Yapo. Picture: Getty

He said he paid €200,000 (£174,000) by a witch doctor who said he should "sacrifice his son" if he couldn’t meet payments.

“You are like a slave and it can be really damaging,” he told AFP.

Yapi Yapo, now 41, went to the witch doctor on the recommendation of an uncle when he was going through a difficult period while playing for Nantes in Ligue 1.

The healer told Yapi Yapo his family had been cursed, and said he would make an animal sacrifice to "counteract the curses".

Sacrifices of cockerels, goats and rams cost around €500 each, but the marabout's demands then rose to "colossal sums".

The process later became darker, like "black magic", said Yapi Yapo, now a football manager in Switzerland.

Paul Pogba
Paul Pogba. Picture: Getty

He added: "The marabout made me believe that the spirits he worked for liked me and wanted to make me rich. That was the bait."

Payments rose to "€40,000, €50,000, then €60,000", he said.

When he started to run out of money, the witch doctor said he would have to "sacrifice his son” if he couldn't keep up with payments.

"I had the strength to say ‘stop’ and I never went back to him," said Yapi Yapo, who credited his Christian faith with helping him break out of the cycle.

But he had lost more than €200,000, and received nothing positive in return, he said.

“He knew how to put me into a spiral and I lost the ability to think clearly."

Another footballer, Cisse Baratte, said that he had begun seeing witch doctors when he started playing in the Ivory Coast aged 16.

I fell into the trap," said Baratte, now aged 55. He began by taking showers with potions, and then wore a belt with verses from the Koran sewn into it.

He said: "As soon as I got injured or things weren’t going well, I would go to him. He became like a god to me... You become dependent and he took advantage of that."

Players "regularly turn to witch doctors and to the paranormal" to deal with the pressure of having such a short, high-stakes career, evangelical pastor Joel Thibault said.

These schemes had largely gone under the radar until Pogba, a World Cup winner and globally famous player was linked to them.

The witch doctor said to have worked with Pogba said the large sums Pogba paid him went towards "good works in Africa", rather than for a curse.

And it would be wrong to tar all of the marabouts with the same brush, experts say.

"Some (marabouts) are like psychotherapists... while others are swindlers," said anthropologist Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan, who works for the French National Centre for Scientific Research.

Some of the healers base their work on the Sufi tradition and have a profound "religious culture and desire to help", Mr de Sardan said.

But others only know "a few surahs of the Koran and extract the maximum for their victims," he added.