No footballer of African descent has a story like that of Etim John Esin. At only 25, the Akwa Ibom bundle of skill a.k.a ‘Maradona’ had experienced fatal earthquake in Turkey, bloody gunshot, rape case that truncated his career, and messy drug problem.
“No footballer in Africa has that kind of story. Twice I stared at death, I was set up and severally rejected by people close to me and battled depression, yet I’m still standing tall,” Etim blurted out without regret. Etim touched on his struggles and rejections, his passion, still, for football, his affluent family and background, his turnaround, and new found peace, and the Hollywood documentary that would change his life forever in this exclusive interview with TAIWO ALIMI. Excerpts…
What are you doing presently?
I am a scout. I scout for players. Not everyone will be a coach. I don’t have passion for coaching. In-fact I’ve been offered the opportunity to go for coaching courses several time but it is not just my calling, it is not my passion. So, scouting for young talents which I can I recommend to coaches and most of the coaches are either my colleagues or former teammates. At my age I have to do what I have passion for. That is what I am doing presently. It’s been a worthwhile venture. We look for them, groom and recommend them to agents who take them to Europe. As I talk to you two of them are in Portugal to assess contracts this summer. Once that contract is signed, you take your percentage and everyone is happy. It might take time-six months or even one year but surely it will come through and that is what keeps me going. Life is about having hope in something. I have many of my colleagues in Belgium and other parts of Europe who are directors of sports, so they make my job easier for me because we are in a modern era and all we need to do is to have a short video of the player and send to them and they arrange a ticket for the player and send it over and the player go to Europe, do his trial, sign a contract and everyone is happy. It puts food on the table big time. Who are you going to beg for money in this country where people just want to oppress others? It pays. For example if you have a percentage like 30,000 Euro or 30,000 Pounds, change that into naira and you can take care of yourself and your family. I have my contacts all over Europe and these are big time directors of sports in Belgium, France, Poland, Portugal, and Holland so whichever one they want we scout for them and make recommendation.
So, how would you describe Nigeria young players? Do you think we still have the talent?
Yes! We do have talented young players but the problem is the age discrepancy. That is where the job of a scout starts from because if you say you are 17, we have to be sure that you are indeed 17. Technology now is very apt. With VIR scan they can with a certainly know your age bracket. You can have a good player who gives a wrong age bracket and when he gets there and with technology he is found out, all that work comes to nothing. So, we try to get the truth from them, bring in their parents to testify to that. Even sometimes their parents will follow them to lie and we tell them, ‘we don’t work like that, tell us the real age. Birth certificate in this country is not something you can rely on absolutely so you have to ensure that you bring in their parents and get the truth out of them because at the end of the day you need the parents’ consent if they are 16 or below because of the child trafficking issue which is very serious in Europe.
At what point did you get into football analysis on TV and radio?
I still do it. It is based on contract especially during a major tournament. Like during the Africa Nations Cup. I did it for Brila during the last World Cup. I worked with ITV before it shut down. I have passion in football analysing too and I will continue to do it.
Look at Europe for example; Thierry Henry, Gary Lineker and many ex-footballers are big time analysts. Sometimes only the presenter will be the only journalist in the panel. All the analysts are ex-footballers. From there you can get a sponsor and
spilt the difference with the company that owns the network. In Nigeria, they expect you to work for them and give you peanut. It is not fair on ex-players. I expect that during the Nations Cup like the one coming up, I would have a good contract with a network, I do my stuff, earn good money and when it is over I go back to my scouting happy.
You talk about a charity match for late Sam Okwaraji; this is strange coming from you. You always looking for what people can do for you, but now you are doing something for a dead colleague?
You are right. It is because of what I’ve been through. I am a different person now. I want to give myself. I want to contribute my little quota. I am really passionate about Sam Okwaraji. If I am the one that fell down and died on August 12, 1989, so this is how it would be. That is very deep and touchy. I expect those who are in that team like Samson Siasia and Austin Eguavoen who have coached the country before, to do something in the memory of their late colleague. It is not good enough. It is very sad and pathetic.
All we are trying to do is to ensure that Okwaraji did not die in vain. We want to organise a charity match to mark his 30th anniversary on that stadium that he died, it would make a lot of sense and we would hand over whatever is raised to his suffering mother. I met with his brother Sam Chidozie Okwaraji and we have form a committee and we are looking for sponsors. We will get across to the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), meet with the president Amaju Pinnick and get their endorsement. Once Pinnick can endorse it, we don’t need their money and I know where I can go to make it happen. That is what we are trying to do.
Let’s use that as a peg to look at the welfare of ex-internationals in Nigeria?
It is very sad. If you start from how (Rashidi) Yekini died, (Stephen) Keshi passed away, Sam Opone, Peter Anieke, Raymond King all died in penury and rejection after one form of health problem. Peter Fregene is bedridden and now Christian Chukwu is down with stroke. These are just few that we can remember. I don’t know how old Pinnick was when Chukwu lifted Nations Cup in 1980, I don’t know how old Pinnick was when Fregene played for Nigeria, you don’t even have a library in the NFF, so, you have to look at the archives and get the Players Union involved. The money may not even come from them, but you must be organised. There are monies FIFPro (World Football Union) supposed to be sending to Players Union every month. It was stipulated by FIFA contract in Barcelona in 1992 so why are we doing as if all footballers are dumb. Many of us are intelligent. They will use us and give us peanut and we fall into their trap and cannot ask for what rightfully belong to us. They put them in commit
tee and that is that. But what we can benefit from Players Union is more than that. So that this kind of issue nobody will even hear it. Players Union would have taken care of it.
What if Femi Otedola had not stepped into Chukwu issue, can the NFF say they don’t have $50,000 to give to Chukwu or the government of Enugu state says they don’t know Chukwu. Chukwu served this country. It is sad. These are things that make me sad. How would you encourage the young ones? Even Okwaraji that played and died in active service, what’s his story.
I hope that it would change and because we have to encourage the younger ones that this is our country and we have to be patriotic and play for fatherland. That is the dream of every player, to play for their country.
For Tijani Babangida, the current president of Players Union, he is a nice chap, but my fear is that he would become a different person now that he has been given the opportunity. Once a Nigerian gets a platform, he changes. I don’t know if I will be like that too but it is not in me. Tijani can do the right thing and not get under pressure. I pray that he would do the right thing.
friends but the memory of the treatment he gave me has made me keep him ten yards away. Respect is reciprocal. You cannot call me a thief and still expect that I would still be laughing with you. Segun Odegbami called us together and settled the matter and I have forgiven him. I have been sending text messages to him. In-fact when I heard about his tax issue I told him what to do and who can help him because Nigerians are only interested in your downfall.
Your career was truncated at your prime, does it still bothers you?
It does not bug me any longer. In-fact I don’t like talking about the past because I have my future before me. I have moved on. The past is past, the future is brighter. I have told you about a multimillion dollar deal coming from Hollywood? Is that not a bright future? With that I will bid poverty bye forever and my family will also benefit from the royalty when I am gone. That is why I don’t go out for events again. If you don’t invite me you won’t see me there.
Would you say your wife and children gave you a second chance at life?
Definitely! My wife is my backbone. She is my secret and that is why I don’t like talking about my family. She is my strength. We met in Paris but I had to come back to Nigeria when I had issue in 1993 and as God would have it her father was transferred to Nigeria that same year and that was how we reunited again. She is God sent and that is how my life has been. God always have me in mind and would send me the best. She is my pillar of support, she encourages me, gives me support and if not for her I would be singing a different tune today.
She has given me two beautiful children. My daughter is 19 and my son is almost seven. My daughter is in the University and I’m so proud of her. My son wants to be a musician like Whizkid and Davido and make money fast. He plays football for the school team and I want him to have natural love for the game. I don’t want to push, let him develop slowly and as soon as I see that passion in him at age 12 or 13 I will push him to Paris St Germain academy. But I will encourage him to do whatever he loves.
What advice do you have for NFF?
NFF need to have a different mind-set and leave segregation out of Nigerian football. I can understand that Pinnick may not know everybody but he has advisers. For example if NFF is having a Hall of Fame, is it only the ’94 set that would be there. Ex-footballers should also change their mind-set. Kanu has set the ground with his Kanu Heart Foundation; Okocha can do the same and have a foundation that would give back to the society that gave them so much instead of running to the NFF all the time. They are icons, brands and stars of the game and can make more money than what they are getting from the NFF.
We have to learn to share love just like Samuel Eto’o did for Cameroon ex-international Norbert Ozona, who was homeless. He bought a house for him and settled him for life. We have deep hatred for ourselves and that is why we are not moving forward. Let’s love reign.
If you have a chance at life a second time what would do differently?
Let look at it this way. The documentary and movie about me coming up is because of my story. I don’t think any footballer in Nigeria or Africa has my kind of story. From gunshot to rape case, to drug and earthquake in Turkey, no footballer in Africa has that kind of story. I nearly died in Turkey. The gunshot in Nigeria was reported internationally. The whole country felt my pain. I’ve been through so much but I’m still here. I would have been dead and forgotten. There is no player that has my kind of story. Paramount Studio sees a win-win situation, they will make money and I will make money too. So, there is no regret. Call me a child of destiny and you won’t be wrong.
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