Many football stars have emerged from Ajegunle, a renowned ghetto in Nigeria with a high population, lots of potentials and a few opportunities. But for every star there are a thousand and one others who didn’t make it.
Sunday Chukwuma, 31, who is one of the most talented footballers anyone could ever meet, is one of those who didn’t make it to football stardom.
“I play for fun now because of my age and I have to look for another means of survival because there’s life after football,” he says.
A means of survival besides playing football involves doing menial job since his highest educational qualification is the senior school certificate.
“I have no plans to further because I have younger ones to take care of, as both my parents are dead,” he reveals.
Other aspiring football stars, including Michael Anazoh, 27, Chinwendu Kalu, 27, and Emmanuel Odemila, consider themselves luckier. They still have age on their side and hope to make it big to football stardom.
“We want to do nothing else but play football,” the young men insist, with Anazoh adding, “I am in my prime now and can still achieve my dreams.”
“I will stop when I am thirty and pursue business,” Kalu offers, while Odemila maintains that he “still has at least a decade of football left in me because if I go abroad, I will claim to be 19 years old.”
The Navy Barracks in Ajegunle, a popular training ground for sports folks especially footballers which also serves as a scouting ground for big clubs, teams, coaches and managers in search of talent, is where these young men practice.
Despite these odds, these four talented young men remain undeterred and believe that their dreams of playing for big leagues abroad will come true.
“I want to play top flight football in Europe,” Anazoh says, with Kalu saying that “if I can naturalise in any European country, I’d be more than happy.”
Odemila has no doubt that “playing professional football overseas” is all he wants to do. Chukwumah, who has given hope on playing professional football, insists that he will go abroad in search of greener pastures.
“I want to leave Naija for Europe to do business,” he insists.
For these men, football is more than just a sport. It is a thing of passion, something they live, breathe and virtually eat. It helps them keep their sanity in an environment where everything seems to be going wrong.
“I do menial jobs sometimes to be able to pay bills. My dad is still alive but mum is late,” Anazoh says.
Maintaining that he feeds off the streets, Kalu, an orphan, says, “Some senior men on the streets assist me. And I also have an aunt who supports me.”
Odemila, the first of five children, adds, “My manager assists with stipends and buys me kits. My dad is late but my mum is still alive.
But this has not always been the story. Odemila played for Firstbank FC in 2011 where he earned 30,000 naira monthly. Kalu was making 20,000 naira monthly as an amateur footballer, while Anazoh played for Young FC in Cameroon before “being owed salaries” forced him to return to Nigeria, and Chukwumah had some trials in Germany but was unfortunate.
Anazoh would love to further his education if given an opportunity, but for the rest, it is football all the way. They would rather invest the time and finances into pushing their football careers forward.
“In two years, I should have grown and matured all round, to the extent of having someone that I can mentor and take care of,” Anazoh says. Kalu shares his sentiments on this and Odemila insists that in two years, he would be “playing in a division 2 or 3 club in Europe.”
Anazoh has a baby mama who encourages him and supports his dreams completely, but Kalu and Chukwumah believe that having a woman in their lives right now would distract them. Odemila has a few flings, but nothing serious.
Even though they have seen a lot of dreams die around them, they are steadfast in their hopes and belief that their case will be different.
For Odemila, the fact that people he does not know walk up to him after each training session to commend him on his game is enough motivation for him not to give up on his dreams.
Anazoh believes everyone’s destiny is different, and the fact that a lot of people around him are not making it does not mean he will not make it.
Kalu is of the opinion that the living God whom he serves is a “rewarder of those who diligently seeks Him”.
Chukwumah has given up on making it as a footballer, but not in life. He plans to make it big as a businessman and then invest in young football talents to help them achieve the dreams he couldn’t.
He concludes, “I want to leave Naija for Europe.”
See more pictures below:
Photo Credit: Aina Temitope
Assistant Reporter: Chidinma Okere