On The Ball
The tragedy of a boy’s dream come true
This is a football book which people who don’t like the sport will also enjoy. It seems impossible but it isn’t. Dijkzeul hasn’t just written about football in a way that will charm even its detractors, she has also managed to tell a story which remains gripping throughout.
Sunday footballers Rahmane, Tigani and Henri have talent, and therefore a small chance to escape the great poverty of their village in Africa. Their coach has contacts at the football club in the city and arranges for a scout to come and see how skilfully they can kick their hand-made ball through the dust. However, when the three finally have the chance to play on a real football pitch in the city, the fun ends. The training sessions are gruelling, the games demanding and the forbidden delights of the city tempting.
Soon Henri and Tigani have to return home and only Rahmane appears to have the necessary strength of character to stick it out. That’s not to say that things will be easy for him. When Rahmane returns to his village wearing cool shoes and new clothes after a placement in The Netherlands, he realises that no one sees him as Rahmane any more, focussing only on his money and success. Yet he, too, has changed. He finds himself annoyed by his fellow villagers who, like Tigani, would rather dream of success than do anything about it.
It is this underlying drama that makes On The Ball such a strong novel. Dijkzeul doesn’t write about football because it’s a nice game for boys but because she has something important to say. This captivating story discusses the far-reaching sacrifices that ambition sometimes demands. On The Ball is a tragedy of classic proportions about growing up and talent’s unavoidable uprooting from the soil it was grown on.