By- Oma Akatugba
There are many Nigerian footballers and even many more who just need an opportunity to shine. They go above the usual in their pursuit of greatness. While some have found themselves in excellent conditions, so many others haven’t been so lucky.
For Emmanuel Uzochukwu, a 21-year old Nigerian attacker painting Myanmar red with goals, his story is one that’ll tell of a man driven by the willingness to break the lines and have a beautiful football career.
Uzochukwu, in a chat with Omasports separated facts from fiction, as he revealed how torrid the journey was for him. He also discussed his painful transition from a man chased by the Police, how he transcends borders to feed, and his future plans.
In a highly revelatory story, the revelation gave a breakdown of how he found himself in the South-East Asian country after the allure of European football made him follow a so-called agent.
“I met a guy called Diallo in Nigeria. He came to our training ground at LA field in Isashi in 2015. He saw me play and picked me alongside five other guys. We went to Ikorodu and spent close to a year or 8 months processing to travel abroad. He didn’t tell us we were headed for Myanmar,” he told Omasports.
Miami, Or Myanmar?
Uzochukwu said he couldn’t believe his ears when he heard where they were headed. He, for a moment thought Diallo said Miami but on a second hearing, it got crystal clear to him.
“He told us he’s taking us to Europe. That I’m young and will score many goals. We kept working and praying but things didn’t work out as planned. Finally, he called us that our Visas are out. We were all happy and asked him what country and he said Myanmar. For a moment, I thought he said Miami in the US. I had never heard about Myanmar.
“Three guys travelled first, and he was with them. A day or two later, I alongside some guys also joined him. In Ikorodu, we were staying in a shop, sleeping on mats.”
Survival In Myanmar
“In the shop, we were feeding ourselves, and my parents sponsored me. I also hustled to make some money to feed but it was basically my parents. They sponsored me here too.
“We spent more than a million to get here. We paid like three times. We didn’t meet Diallo directly. We met Oduzor and he was the one that brought us to Ikorodu. Oduzor didn’t know where to take us to, so he brought Diallo into the picture. I gave Oduzor like 150-200k. We were kept in one uncompleted building. He called our parents and introduced Diallo to them. The business was for both of them. They both had the business. We trained till visas came out. The first three guys left and it got to my turn. We were very lucky. We travelled with fake tickets. We were so ignorant and didn’t know at all.
“When we got to Qatar, we had a 24-hour transit before we headed to Myanmar. We were lodged in a 5-star hotel in the Qatar Airport and we were given at least $150 dollar each. He gave me $160.
“Next day, we went to Myanmar and nobody came to pick us. Even Diallo was scared because he had made no arrangement. We called him many times. We boarded a taxi and asked him to take us somewhere that we are from Nigeria.
“Finally, we reached a guy who gave us a number to call Diallo on. We did and he directed us to a building, a condo. When we got there, we saw Diallo. He never gave us any travel arrangement.
“He took us to a guy called Kamara, a Liberian who kept us in for almost five days. After the fifth day of our arrival, Diallo took me, a guy called Ejima and one other called Kelvin to a man. We call the man ‘Papi’, he is Liberian too. Diallo told us he’s the man that’ll give us club in the country and asked us to stay with him.
“Before Diallo left, he asked us to give him all the money in our hands. “We don wise small” that time. I told him I had just $50. He took our money and he flew back to Nigeria. The last thing he told us was; ‘I’ve brought you guys here. Hustle, go to the street and play football. When I was in Morocco, I hustled and went to the street. I slept on the street in Morocco.’ Because he suffered in Morocco, he expected us to suffer too.
“Papi took our money and went to buy a lot of chicken, foodstuff, many eggs and we kept those in the store. We kept eating and if we cook, the man will take like five chicken and he’d tell us we have to manage the food. Kamara had said he can’t stay with six people.
“Papi took us to a team and we were not allowed to train at all. That period, we started having sense. The visa that took us to Myanmar was a tourist visa that’s supposed to lapse after 28 days.
“Our foods soon finished and he asked for money again. We knew he just wanted our money. So we’d sneak out to buy food and eat in the midnight. He noticed and told us his wife and kid were coming from the UK and we can’t stay with them. He told us to leave. The six of us that got to Myanmar went to a village and we got a condo that had not been completed then. We joined hands and got that place.
“I went to African Training in Myanmar to play and when I got there, I was scoring a lot of goals. There was a guy called Samuel. He said ‘we have this kind of striker in this country but agents will never help them.’ He said agents will be looking for profiled players only.
He gave me 20,000 Kyat (Myanmar currency). He told me he’d take me to a club and that club was in Division 2. He said the next day, I’ll get signed. The next day, he didn’t call because he sought information. He didn’t take me to the club that second day because he had to talk to a Nigerian on trial at the club. He didn’t want him to be disappointed, but it was clear to him that the guy wouldn’t be picked. His visa was expired. He wasn’t playing up to expectations and was at the club for trials the second time.
“After the guy was dropped, he called that I should meet him somewhere and I did. We got to a team called Chinland and we met a man called Bishop. He is the owner of the club. He said he likes my stature that I’m tall and huge. I was 17 then, going to 18. My visa had expired and was hiding from the Police. The next day he was at the training ground to see and I scored two goals. He sat there and told Samuel he likes me that he’d sign me.
“I signed a deal for $600. It was the transfer fee and there were no added bonuses.
“He took my document to the football Federation and they said I cannot play. They didn’t allow me play because I wasn’t up to 18.
“He terminated my contract and explained why I can’t play to him and said he will send me to India to develop more skills. I agreed. Many people told me to go back to Nigeria.
“I got a call from a Liberian and he directed me to go and play in India in a State League 7s tournament. I told him I had nothing at all. I called my people and went to the street for jobs. I got some money, went to the immigration and paid for my overstay. I paid $1400. Every day you overstay in Myanmar is $3. I didn’t have money for ticket again. Bishop got me tickets to and from India in 2016. When I got to India, I met a Liberian guy called Blamo. He arranged for me. I was in the guy’s house for two days. He lived in Kolkata and Blamo called an agent. An Indian agent asked me to go to Kerella. I went there with train. It was almost a 24-hour journey. I met an Indian man on the train and he was the one buying food for me. The agent saw me and said he heard I can play like Ronaldo and Messi. That I should show him on the pitch. I had a Barça Jersey then. Blamo lied to them that I was in Barça Academy (Laughs). He said, ‘you saw Messi’ and I said yes.
“When I got to the pitch, I was doing stepovers and showing good skills. After that day, I was kept in a small hotel. He took me to a 7s game and we played in front of more than 40,000 fans. They were playing against the best team. I was very lucky to score a goal. We won 2-0 and a guy called Kingsley scored the second. We played against three Liberians and two Nigerians. The stadium was filled to the brim, buildings behind the stadium was full. If you fall, you’ll fall on people.
“I was paid 9,000 Rupees and that was $150. It was just a 40-minute game. I wasn’t given all. I was given $80. But I was happy. Everyday I played two games and my name was everywhere. I was making money. I played with an Indian national team player, Mohammed Rafi and he invited me to his village to play with them. I didn’t know he was a big guy. I took the ball from him and I was dishing orders when we had a free kick. He listened to me. I asked him to give the ball a small push and I’ll shoot. I did and scored a good goal. When I came out, the manager told me he’s a big guy and I shouldn’t have taken the free kick. I said the most important was that I scored the goal. I had many call-ups. After one month, my name was all over Kerella.
“Some people got jealous and started calling Police. Police was looking for me because I was playing with a tourist Visa. I ran out of India. Police came to my house and I had to go and hide in a Cameroonian guy’s house. I was there for close to three days. I bought my ticket and the guy took me to the airport in the midnight. I flew back to Kolkata and my birthday was close. I left Kerela because I didn’t have documents. I told the guy I wanted to go back to Myanmar and I called Bishop. I asked him to send me invitation. I went to the Myanmar Embassy and I was given a 3-month Visa.
“When I got to Myanmar, I was with my friends. I was training personally and I was bucks up. I had about $4000 but I hid it. I didn’t send anything home that during period. I was buying what I needed.”
7s is a six players, one goalkeeper tournament, played on half of a normal football pitch.
“People tell me I’m statured like Paul Onuachu. Last time I went to play in FHA, Festac, a guy told me, “look at talent wasting. You have to go to Midjtylland.” He said he was there for trials but they didn’t sign him and asked me to go.”
How It Started In The Myanmar League
“I was training and waiting for Bishop to call. Chinland FC got promoted to the First Division of the Myanmar National League and Bishop said I’d have to do trials again because they were now a level ahead. They expected more from me.
“I went there for trials. We played four matches and I scored five goals. That 7s helped me, I was scoring regularly now. I knew I had to score for my name to fly and irrespective of the passes I was getting, I knew I had to score. It’s different from Europe.
“They signed me again, and I was signed for $700. And they gave me $100 feeding money every month. My friends were playing in the 2nd Division. The club gave me an apartment but I rejected it because I’d have to stay with local players and they don’t have respect.
“I scored nine goals in the league and two goals in the cup. We were in the relegation zone. It’s a 12-team league. I finished 3rd/4th on the scorers sheet. I helped them maintain their status in the league. I had a 2-year contract with Bishop.
“That season, they selected Best 16 Foreign players to play against the Myanmar U-23 team. We played 1-1 and I came from the bench. I was young. Many of them were Nigerians and I scored in the game. They asked us to play their U-21. I started this time and scored the equalizer.
“Yangon Utd called me to join them that I’ll help them win the league. My best friend is the goalkeeper. He behaves like an American. He lived there. He said ‘we will kill them all’ if I joined them.
“I was at home when the Yangon manager called me to come to the training ground with my passport. I called my agent, Victor and informed him Yangon are calling me. He said I shouldn’t think about it that they are the biggest in the country. He had to call to confirm. He said I should go and he will join me. My manager said I should not go with my boot. They said they want me but the President doesn’t want because me I’m too young. He likes signing players from Europe but the coach likes me. His name is Mr. Miong. The best coach I’ve played under.
“He called me and told the President that he’s seen me play and I have good stamina and skills. First time, he said he has signed me and he was serenading me with good words. He said I need to convince the President. A guy came from Rubin Kazan, a Brazilian. He was there to play too and we were both on trials.
“The coach knew my qualities and he wanted me. He put me in the starting line up and told me to stay back after everyone went on the pitch. He instructed me to play my football, without styles. I should play the way I played against them and the Myanmar national teams. He said he will fight for me.
“First ten minutes, I scored. We played on a training pitch. Second half, I was doing everything well. After first half, he asked me to rest. The Brazilian came on, wasn’t playing as much as I did but he scored this 37-yard free kick. Well struck ball. I was not scared because I had a team already.
“I was at home when a call came in that I’ve been picked and should come and sign. It was in the midnight. I was given a contract. It was times six or times five of what I earned in Chinland. I was given a good apartment. Bishop got angry. I flouted the rules, I was young and I didn’t know anything.Yangon should have paid but they didn’t because the President didn’t like me. I was the third black signing in the team and that was the first time. They signed three blacks and one Japanese. They’d never had more than two blacks.
“I was giving Bishop $1000 monthly. He didn’t want to take the money but the manager and his son was pushing it.
At Yangon, I wasn’t the first striker, I was the second striker. The first choice was a Guinean named Dzilla, and he’s very experienced. I scored many goals and I scored a goal on my AFC Cup debut. We played against Bali, an Indonesian team. Nobody believed we could beat Bali. I scored in the first twenty goals. I took on players and Dzilla was scoring. We won 3-1 away from home.
“They came to our home and I dribbled like four players to score. Many people didn’t like me. Some of the fans didn’t like me. Yangon had never signed a player from a small team.
“As a second player behind Dzilla, I had 10 goals and 13 assists in the season. We played against the two biggest clubs in Myanmar. And were tied on points with Chang Utd. If we lose the match, we’d lose the league. I was on the bench and they were leading us 1-0. The coach subbed off the Japanese, and left me and Dzilla. When I got in, I headed the ball and had an assist. If we drew that game, we’d lose the league. In the 94th minute, we had a corner kick, the keeper rushed out to punch the ball and I was in the midst of three players. I scored an acrobatic and we won the game. Dzilla was very happy. The keeper pretended like he’s injured. ‘Everywhere scatter bros!’
“We won the league and everyone was all over me. The President said the coach didn’t allow him sign whom he wanted to. He doesn’t like to sign three black players. The players asked him not to to remove anyone of us but he refused. He gave me $4000. I want you to stay but I want to buy a Brazilian. He likes Brazilians because the all-time top scorer at the club is a Brazilian. He scored over 100 goals.
“We were like friends, his dad has money. They’ve asked to bring me back but I refused. He sent it through a friend. I got an offer from Bangladesh. I went there and scored a lot and they said I’d play in the AFC so they wanted to tie me down. It was in 2018 too. I was not signed. I didn’t like Bangladesh. They pay well though. I have a friend in Bangladesh that earns $11,000 monthly. Albani wanted to pay me $6,000. They wanted to tie me down but I refused.
“I told them I want a termination. They gave me a month’s salary and money for ticket.
Return To Yangon Utd
“Chang Utd wanted to sign me, and that was in 2019. I won the league again with Chang. Yangon called me back and I’m there now. The President called me after winning the league with Chang Utd. I scored one really good goal that got the President heads over heels about me.
“We are doing well. We have won two games in the AFC and drew one. I am the top scorer now. I have 9 goals and one assist. The President is a young guy. His father is the richest man in Myanmar. His father left Myanmar to live in Singapore. Bought a whole hotel. He has a fleet of cars.
He runs a number of businesses in the country.
“I’ve been injured and I’ve played only 3 full games this season. Yangon is the capital and that’s I live. We have a good stadium. It’s not so big though. It’s just above 4,000 capacity and the stadium is always full when the season starts and during big games. The league runs live on Facebook. The country is good, they are not racists.
About The People Of Myanmar
“You need to be focused with them. They have constant electricity. They now do well here. I don’t drink, I hardly go to the club. I have a girlfriend in Nigeria.
Nigerians date their women a lot. They are like Indians. They are Buddhists, Christians and Muslims.”