By Paul Erewuba
He walked the length and breath of Nigeria featuring in the Premier League like a colossus. And for twenty years, defenders dreaded him because of his dribbling skill.
Victor Ezeji like most Nigerian stars like Nwankwo Kanu, Victor Ikpeba, Taribo West etal was picked from the streets.
Discovered from the street in the mid 1990s, Ezeji fell in love with Sharks of Port Harcourt where he played with big names like Mbwas Mangut, Maskavin Tali, Chidi Aluka, David Doe and Kennedy Boboye to mention just a few.
Because of his humility and football sense, he endeared himself to all the premier league clubs who wanted his signature.
But Ezeji’s first chance with a big club in a league match was against Jasper United in Onitsha.
He had the chance to make his debut in the 1996 season at Jasper United, where he played all 90 minutes and his impressive display helped the Blue Angels claim a 1-0 victory through Tali’s goal.
“I still remember that day in Oba, near Onitsha, where I played my first game. Of course, for a youngster I was excited and at the same time on the edge, but once the game started I just played as if I was in the street playing with my mates.”
Ezeji said after that first game that he never looked back as he went on to later play for Eagle Cement FC (now Dolphins), Enyimba, Sunshine Stars and Heartland.
In between, he had a brief stint at Tunisian side Club Africain.
Speaking in Lagos to officially announce his two decades of uninterrupted league career, he took a deep breath, looked around the hall and said my regret is the chance I missed playing for a foreign club due to injury and Enyimba’s inability to accept an offer from a foreign club.
“I am thankful to all the coaches, players and clubs I have played with. It’s been an amazing moment for me, ” he began.
I played for Dolphins, Sharks, Enyimba, Sunshine Stars, and Heartland. And i won the NPFL, FA Cup and CAF Champions League titles as well as several individual awards. But I will say Enyimba’s inability to allow me play professional football abroad and the injury that made me miss another chance of signing for a foreign club pained me a great deal.
“I had the chance of joining Ajax Amsterdam but it did not materialize and it ended due to injury. Then another chance to sign for Viborg FF was scuttled by Enyimba.
“The Ajax chance was quite painful. I also had the chance to join Danish side Viborg FF. It didn’t materialize because Enyimba at the time asked for $100 000 and Viborg were ready to pay an additional $50 000. Somehow they turned it down, telling me the Governor ( Abia State) at that time did not want me to leave Enyimba,”
Despite that sad memory, Ezeji said he had other memorable moments in his career. Some of them funny, others like a myth and a few of them dreadful.
“I will say winning the CAF Champions League comes top among them, then there were really crazy moments like when one of the coaches told us to leave cubes of sugar in our boots to help us score goals. I didn’t partake in it because I don’t believe in using juju or charms.
“The FA Cup win with Dolphins is also special and winning the league title too. I also remember when I scored four goals in a league game, only to watch from the bench (while with Sunshine Stars) when another player (Christian Pyagbara) scored four in a game, and within few days another (Emem Eduok) scored six in a game in same year (2014),” he said.
Now that his football career is over, Ezeji said he had begun to champion a course for players in the Nigerian league – focusing on insuring their lives.
“There is no law that states that I cannot be a coach, scout or an analyst after my career. However, my target is to help insure players on the local scene. I’ve already started talking with players about this and how to help them have something to fall back on when injured or disabled as a result of playing,” he said.
Ezeji explained that he has decided to go into player’s insurance considering the numerous stories of stars in the league who have been left with disability even at a premature age in their careers.
“When I look back, I realise I didn’t suffer career-threatening injuries like some players do, and at times are unlucky to end their careers in such circumstance.
“My limbs and ligaments are intact and I could have decided to continue playing but I know this can’t go on forever. So I thought about helping those still playing in the league to secure their lives in the event of such career or life-threatening injuries,” he said.