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The Flight: What West African Footballers Go Through To Shine

“For a moment I thought he said Miami. I was thrilled to play in the US. But when he said it again, I figured he said Myanmar. Where is Myanmar?” Emmanuel asked as his so-called agent prepared visas for him and some others to leave Nigeria. 

Many footballers leave their countries in pursuit of greatness. They brave the odds and face various challenges to emerge. There are footballers who travel on balloons on the Mediterranean, hoping to make it past Libya to Europe. When they make it to Europe, heaven will shine its light on them, they believe.

So many of these young footballers have died in their quest and many others have been left with crushed lives to manage, as they are left with bitter experiences of their sojourns.

James, a 27-year old footballer revealed his experience when he travelled to some West African countries to play football. 

“We were taken everywhere. From Benin to Ghana, Togo and Burkina Faso. We were just playing. In Burkina Faso, they asked us to recite the Qur’an and those who were unable to were not allowed to stay. For me, I knew Fatiha from training with so many Muslims in Nigeria. So I recited it and I was allowed to play. After some days, they left all of us and asked us to go back to Nigeria.”

Like James, many footballers on the continent have similar stories. Of trials during trials and horrible and horrendous journeys in the pursuit of betterment. 

A former Nigeria Professional Football League player once narrated his experience in Norway and how he had to wash walls to earn a living at his club. 

“We were made to wash the wall sometimes. We will play and get paid stipends. Sometimes, they even go months without paying us.”

The stories are the same in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal and many other West African countries where talents are at disposal. 

Only the lucky ones make it from these countries and even those who have had opportunities to play at the national level are an accident or an injury away from regret.

Daniel Joshua was part of Nigeria’s victorious U-17 squad in 2007, as he formed a solid partnership with Kingsley Udoh.

While Udoh earned a move to Atletico Madrid after the tournament, Joshua broke his spinal cord in a nasty accident that almost took his life. His career ended and his dream died.

Many years after, the talented defender said he tried to get into a higher institution in Nigeria where he at least can retrace his steps with education. 

A star in the same tournament, Ghana’s Ransford Osei who won a Silver boot at the Cadet championship retired recently aged just 30. Osei was also part of Ghana’s all-conquering U-20 World Cup winners in 2009. Ever since, his career has failed to hit the works.

“That is how the world is because some of my colleagues are still playing, even some are older than me but they are still playing” 

When I reached some part in my career I was struggling and I didn’t know where the consequences was coming from. I was struggling to go where I wanted to go in my career”

Ransford Osei

For some of these players, financial and career mismanagement is a huge factor in their decline. There are those who never manage to maintain their level of hunger after making their first few millions. 

With poverty hanging low, they raise the bar, hit the higher, more difficult fruits, waste them and get back to impoverishment.

It is a big deal when a West African footballer makes it out of the region and goes on to shine. That explains the massive respect the likes of Sadio Mane, Mikel Obi, and others get from their colleagues who understand how difficult it is to become successful in football. 

There are still many talents on the streets of West Africa, chasing football and a way to betterment, but the reality is, only a few will make it to the promised land. Many careers just never take flight!

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