The Fake Nigerian

Asem isn’t a footballer.  You could probably tell him apart from the rest just by his boots, which are made of cheap synthetic plastic.  Or his shorts, which are from Aldi.  More stand out though is his slight, almost malnourished frame.  One of the players tells me he is a fake Nigerian.  He points to his pecs.

– Man, Nigerians are big.  You see this guy’s chest?  He says, attempting to pull his shirt off.  But it’s true.  My eyes almost explode sometimes when I see some of the ‘small’ guys here shirtless, it’s as if there muscles are trying to come out of their skin.  Asem collapses his chest, folding down to protect himself and laughing  an old man’s cough.

Asem barely gets on the field.  He chats with all of the players on the side.  Mostly the new guys.  Sometimes the players waiting for their turn begin a small piggy-in-the-middle/keep-ball.  He joins in, but it’s not long before you can hear the jokes beginning to erupt.  Mousa sings a TV commercial jig every time he manages to get out of the middle,

Thank you Asem for being so kind,

Thank you Asem you’re so kind to me!

as it is invariably Asem who ends up replacing him.  Asem takes everything on the chin and keeps playing, there is no sense of loss of pride through the barrage of friendly criticism.  He still argues when he is being cheated.  On this particular day he begins talking to me on the sideline.  I’m interested in his position here.  It turns out he didn’t come here for football, however I wouldn’t have been surprised if he did.  At the park in Johannesburg I saw players who were somehow convinced football was their way to make it, yet had no footballing ability.  Asem originally went to Holland to further his education.  The details he gives me are sketchy as is often the case.  ‘It didn’t work out there’.

In the end he came to Belgium he managed to get his papers sorted out through the spouse system.  The idea of Asem – skinny, big-nosed and awkward – managing to get a European wife – a dream for almost any man in Africa – excites me.  When I ask if he’s still with the woman, he gives a perfunctory shake of the head.  –  We were just living together, he says evasively.  Since arriving he’s been working stacking containers.  When we start talking about my project he’s more happy to elaborate.  He reveals to me very proudly that through a guy he’s met at work, he’s succeeded in getting the number of a manager at a club and the manager is keen on seeing some of the players here.  Asem’s really excited at the prospect of it.  If the manager signs a player based on his recommendation and the player turns out to do a good job, then they’ll come back to him next time.

Asem is sharp.  He’s happy to play the joker and be ridiculed, but he’s good at befriending the right players.  Next week the manager will be coming to look at Tall Junior.

~ by ahilito on June 1, 2011.

One Response to “The Fake Nigerian”

  1. Great Story

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