VICENTE DATTOLI /AIPS in RIO DE JANEIRO: In many Third World countries – and Brazil, unfortunately, is one of them – football is the only way many young people find to ascend socially.

Coming from all over, they join football clubs for the chance to become stars, earning both money and fame.  For the dream to become reality, they go through several stages of the selection process, known in Brazil as “sieves”.

Being chosen is the beginning of a path that, everyone hopes, will transform them into the new Neymar, Philippe Coutinho or Vinicius Jr. They leave their parents, their cities, their homes, to live in hostels, funded by the clubs.

They end up creating, with other friends, new families. Football families.

Of course, the facilities offered are not five-star hotels but they are far better than the reality facing them – and there they try to realise their dreams.

Some leave the interior of the country as boys of just 10 or 11.

On Friday, February 8, ten of these boys, aged 14 to 16 years died in a fire that destroyed the accommodation where they slept in the Flamengo Training Center, called the Urubu’s Nest (the urubu bird is a symbol of the club).

The victims were Christian Esmério, 15; Arthur Vinícius de Barros Silva Freitas, 14; Pablo Henrique da Silva Matos, 14; Bernardo Pisetta, 15; Vitor Isaias, 15; Samuel Thomas Rosa, 15; Athila Paixão, 14; Jorge Eduardo, 15; Gedson Santos, 14; e Rykelmo Viana, 16. Three are still in hospital but recovering.

The fire, apparently caused by the explosion of a short-circuit air conditioner, destroyed the containers that were used as a dormitory.

After the tragedy, it was discovered that the place did not meet the standard of the authorities to serve as a dormitory for young people. It was also found that the club had indicated that the space would be used as a parking lot. In the witch hunt that followed the fire incident, information emerged that the club had been notified of the errors several times, without effective and definitive action.

At first, experts calculated a compensation of R$10 million (about $4 million) for the families of the victims. That is a subjective calculation. After all, no one really knows where the boys would have reached in their careers – Christian, for example, had already been called up to the Brazilian U-15 and U-17 national team.

Would there have been a new Neymar arise from among them, or would they fall by the wayside, as so many once promising youngsters?

Impossible to say.

The fire destroyed their dreams. Dreams of boys who came, for example, from Lagarto, in the interior of Sergipe (Athila), or Indaial, in Santa Catarina (Pisetta): they had dreamed of playing for Flamengo, the most popular club in Brazil – and achieving financial security for the whole family.

All that gone with the flames, Suddenly local authorities are reviewing the facilities for young players at clubs throughout Brazil. Some hosteks have already been closed. Too late for the Flamengo dreamers.