Childhood pains made Ajegunle boys football stars – Njoku


Nigeria’s Philip Emeka Njoku doubles as a versatile attacker that also plays as creative number 10 for FC Inter Turku in the Finnish topflight. In this interview with Uchenna Ajah, the 19-year-old noted for excellent pace and close ball control while playing for a grassroots club in Ajegunle, speaks on his first season in Europe, racism and other football related issues. Excerpts:

Uba Group

How has life been for you in the Scandinavian nation since joining FC Inter Turku in the 2014/15 season?

Well, life has been tough for me I must admit. I’m trying to push my game up. I started with the junior Inter side but as God would have it, I was promoted to the senior team after starting some games from the bench. It’s only my first season in Europe but I’m satisfied that my hard work on the pitch is paying off.

How would you rate your first season experience playing in Europe?

It’s really tough to be honest. I have had to battle the language barrier, cold and, of course, the little incidents of racism so far. But in all, I give God the glory for giving me the strength to carry on.

So, how did your club respond to the cases of racism you experienced, taking into account that FIFA had come out openly to condemn racism in football?

Funny enough, most of the racist acts I experienced were on the pitch, from my own team where we have up to 15 foreigners, with eight of them black players. Also, the match officials are not left out because it shows whenever we are playing games. There was an instance I had two good goals disallowed and was also handed a controversial red card for no reason. At the end, I just took them as a learning curve as my club did not do much about the incidents.

Having experienced such in Finland, are you planning to remain with Inter? Are there offers from other clubs?

Yes, there are offers for me to move but I would like to develop more as a player before going to another country or league. Already, my manager, who is based in Crystal Palace in England, informed me of offers coming in from Belgium, Malta, Italy and Greece for my services, but I asked her to give me one more season in Finland. Hopefully, when I return to Europe after my holidays, I will discuss more details with her.

A lot of Nigerians players like Taye Taiwo are still playing in Finland. How has the relationship been among you players?

Yeah, we have a cordial relationship amongst us. Taye is a big brother to most of us in Finland. Currently, he plays for HJK Helsinki and he is a nice guy to be with any day. Likewise my new teammate, Faith Obilor, and other players flying the Nigerian colours in Finland; whenever we find time to meet, we chat and exchange pleasantries and encourage one another to be focused and always remember the reason we left our Naija for Europe.

How challenging was the move from a grassroots club in Ajegunle to Europe without playing in the Nigerian league?

Firstly, I want to give God all the glory for making my dream of playing

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