26th September, 2012
While going abroad to play professional football has brought riches, fortunes and fame to the likes of Stephen Keshi, Sunday Oliseh, Kanu Nwankwo, Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha among others however, several other less-fortunate Nigerian players, it has been one ugly tale to the other in their quest to play football outside the country.
For Elvis, not real name, a native of Imo State, it was a case of falling victim to dubious football agents, like many other young aspiring Nigerian footballers seeking greener pastures abroad, in desperation to play football abroad.
Elvis found his way to Johannesburg, South Africa, looking forward to playing professional football in the Rainbow nation. He had beautiful dreams about his future and had relations waiting for him back home in Nigeria hoping to see him play for big clubs. That never happened.
Back in 2007, when he was in Nigeria, Elvis had contacted his friend who lived in Johannesburg on the possibility of playing in South Africa. The friend convinced him to come over and thus began his nightmare in the land of Madiba.
“My family sold everything to ensure that I travelled to South Africa to play football. I had nothing doing after I left secondary school in Port Harcourt in 2005, but I was able to convince my late mother and my uncle that I wanted to play football,” Elvis recalled.
It turned out that the club Elvis got was an amateur football team in Kempton Park, Johannesburg. During his interaction with his unnamed friend, a Nigerian football agent was mentioned. The agent promised to take him to one of the big clubs in the South African Premier Soccer League but that he had to join an amateur side before the transfer could happen.
“And that was it,” Elvis said. “I paid him some money for the deal but he never got back to me.
“I was squatting with my friend during that time and we tried several times to locate the agent, but we couldn’t. Initially, he would visit me, promising that the transfer would soon take place, but later he completely disappeared.”
Frustrated, Elvis left the club to start trading on the streets to make ends meet because expectation from him at the home front was high. Elvis had to indulge in the sales of artificial women’s hair-do to make ends meet.
“I can’t go back to Nigeria because I don’t have the money, and it would be a disappointment to return empty-handed,” he said.
Elvis’ case is just one of many other victims of similar situation. He was even lucky as some other victims had worse experiences to recount.
As it happened in the case of former Enyimba football club of Aba goalkeeper, Sam Okoye who went for trials in Iran only for his corpse to be returned to the country after he died in controversial circumstance.
Another Nigerian, Bobsam Elejiko, 30, collapsed and died while playing for Belgian club Merksem S.C. Attempts were made to resuscitate him but they proved to be unsuccessful. Elejiko had previously played for Westerlo and Antwerp among other teams.
Also, there are some Nigerian footballers reportedly roaming the streets of major cities of Vietnam after they were unable to secure contracts in the Asian country.
Former U-23 captain Adebowale Ogungbure, another former U-23 defender Ejike Izuagha and Olushola Aganun, who were once hit in the Austrian topflight, now ply their trade in Vietnam.
Some may argue that the above mentioned players may not be in their prime and are in Vietnam for their final pay day having played previously in Europe. Vietnam may be a poor country, foreign footballers earn considerably well. Last season alone, about 70 foreigners competed for 14 V-League teams with monthly salaries of between US$5,000 and $12,000 with Nigerians dominating the less competitive league.
Aganun, who was recruited by Dong Thap FC with a salary of around $3,000 last year, recently signed for Hoa Phat Ha Noi after a successful season, where he netted 10 goals for Dong Thap.
The former Wacker Tirol powerful forward is reported to have signed for the Hanoian team for a salary of around $7,000 a month.
Timothy Anjembe, who played for Dong Thap last year, also moved to Hoa Phat Ha Noi after a good season.
“Nigerian players are here (Vietnam) because of money,” Anjembe, who has carved a niche for himself in the V-League said in an interview.
According to a FIFA report released recently, Nigerian players moved the most within Africa.
It is also on FIFA’s record that most of African players playing in Belgium, The Netherlands and other parts of Europe are from Nigeria.
Reacting to this, former Technical Director of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, Kashimawo Laloko, a larger number of transfers involving Nigerians took place and not registered on the TMS.
Laloko, Director of Pepsi Football Academy, has seen some of his wards move to various clubs in Europe without his permission and ended up regretting their decision.
“The Pepsi Academy has been a victim of fake agents for so long. We produce good footballers but when it is time to cash in on them by getting them a reasonable club, they simply disappear only to be heard of in some clubs in Europe.
“Until the football authorities criminalise such activities, we’ll continue to have fake agents around,” Laloko retorted.
According to Henry Makinwa many Nigerian players are stranded in several countries in Europe and have refused to return to Nigeria.
“I made some investigation and found out that we have almost 2000 Nigerian footballers in Europe without clubs and are afraid to go back home because of the poor situation. These players are too young to waste away like that.
“In Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Holland these players are wasting away. Some of them get jobs outside football while some play in the lowest divisions without Resident Permits; they remain illegal immigrants.
“Some of these players were not signed. Some came in through youth programs in Sweden, Portugal, Spain and other countries. Some others spent a lot of money coming; thinking when they come in, it will be easy to get a club. Some were lured by dubious agents.
“I tell them to go back home but they always say ‘what are we going to do when we get back home?’ They prefer to remain illegal immigrants.”
“Their visas are expired; they don’t have work permits, so they resort to begging for survival because they cannot get jobs here. Some of them take to drug deals. They are just here destroying Nigeria’s image.”