• Thursday, November 30, 2023
businessday logo


Rags to riches: Unforgettable fairytales of footballers


Life, they say, is a journey with a lot of unfolding mysteries, to some a pleasant one and some others the opposite.

Little wonder Guglielmo Marconi once said, “The mystery of life is certainly the most persistent problem ever placed before the thought of man…”

In the face of the prevailing economic crunch, some weak-minded individuals would quickly think there is no hope of tomorrow because of the challenges of today, but that is a fallacy.

Read also: Why do some Nigerian footballers play for England, other countries?

The fairy tales of some notable footballers who moved from rags to riches are evidence that with focus and hard work, success is inevitable.

Some years ago, Austin Jay-Jay Okocha sold oranges in the streets of Enugu to help his mother meet family food demands.

However, as it is said, that is in the past, as the Nigerian football legend is now a multi-million.

Okocha started playing football on the streets of Enugu before fortunes smiled on him through his football skills.

“As far as I can remember, we used to play with anything, with any round thing we could find, and whenever we managed to get hold of a ball, that was a bonus! I mean it was amazing!”

In 1990, Okocha went on holiday to West Germany, the country that had just won the 1990 FIFA World Cup, so he could watch a German league football.

A year later, he joined FC Saarbrücken. He stayed there for two seasons before moving to Eintracht Frankfurt, where he destroyed Oliver Kahn. The rest, as they say, is now history.

Today, Jay-Jay Okocha is living in affluence, a man, who was once in slum.

Victor Osimhen, the last child of seven siblings, lost his mother, while his father lost his job, leaving him and his siblings in the dark world of uncertainty.

His early childhood experience was faced with insecurity, poverty, and the recurrent fear of eviction by the government.

As a teenager, Osimhen found himself in a situation no child would pray for. His family could only afford one of the many makeshift houses around the popular Olusosun rubbish dump, which was declared illegal by the Lagos State government then because of the noticeable environmental risks from the emission of thick smoke, foul smell, and routine fire outbreaks.

Besides, the location was a hideout for criminals, who concealed dangerous weapons and hard drugs inside the massive garbage.

To make ends meet, Osimhen used to chase after vehicles selling sachet water, popularly known as ‘pure water’ then.

He sold sachet water on the ever-busy Lagos roads but kept an eye on football, playing the game on streets in his neighbourhood, as well as joining the youth side Ultimate Strikers Academy.

Just like his never-say-die attitude on the pitch, he didn’t give up.

“I come from a place where so many dreams have died but I’m the kind of person who doesn’t give up irrespective of my situation. So, I was forced to go out and get myself a life,” Osimhen said.

Osimhen started his football career in Nigeria playing for the Ultimate Strikers Academy. The Nigerian lanky striker began his senior career in Germany at VfL Wolfsburg in 2017.

He currently plays for Napoli in the Serie A and the Nigeria national team. Osimhen earns a salary of €10 million (about N8. 4billion) per season.

In August 2019, Osimhen joined Ligue 1 side Lille. The Nigerian striker developed as a striker, scoring 13 goals in 27 league games in the 2019/20 season for Lille.

In 2020, Napoli signed the striker for a €70 million transfer fee. Osimhen has been a pivotal striker for Napoli.

He has won the FIFA U17 World Cup 2015, FIFA U17 Golden Boot 2015, and FIFA U17 Silver Ball 2015.

In the 2021/22 season, Osimhen was named the Serie A Best Young Player. He scored 14 goals in 27 league games in that season.

In the 2022/23 season, Osimhen scored 26 league goals and led Napoli to win the Serie A title for the first time in 33 years.

He was named the Serie A Best Striker for the 2022/23 season.

In Africa, he won the CAF Youth Player of the Year 2015, and AFCON 3rd Place 2019. In France, he won the Prix Marc-Vivien Foé 2020, and Lille Player of the Season 2019.

Similarly, Eric Bailly was selling cigarettes in the streets of Abidjan before fortune fell on him and he found himself playing for the biggest club in the world.

Read also: Football, the Nigerian gold begging to be mined

“When I got to Barcelona, I took a deep breath and thanked God that I had arrived. But Barcelona was so different from Abidjan. Everywhere I looked there were lights, cars, and noise.

I knew I had to adapt quickly. Luckily, after just a month, the club told me, “Alright, we’ve seen enough. We want you.”

By the second month, I had signed a contract with Espanyol. I had made it. I was a professional footballer.

When I came back to the Ivory Coast, everyone was so happy. My whole family was celebrating. My father was overjoyed. He even stepped into the kitchen to cook chicken! Then I returned to Spain to join the Espanyol youth teams.”

He went ahead to play with Villarreal, and Manchester United, among others.

“In about five years I had gone from selling cigarettes in the streets of Abidjan to playing for the biggest club in the world,” he narrated.